Ricky Gervais: Britain’s most controversial comedian is actually a softie

TV review: After Life’s saving grace is the cast of lovable freaks around Gervais

After Life, season 3

After Life, season 3

 

In series one of After Life (Netflix, Friday), Ricky Gervais played a grumpy every-bloke struggling to cope with the death of his wife. In series two, Ricky Gervais played a grumpy every-bloke struggling to cope with the death of his wife.

Series three has now arrived and viewers may not be shocked to discover that Ricky Gervais plays a grumpy every-bloke struggling to cope with the death of his wife.

First time out, Gervais’ meditation on grief was unflinching. Alas, by season two it felt he was raiding the comedy recycling bin. Local newspaper reporter Tony was also increasingly difficult to root for: at moments the disdain the character exhibited towards friends and colleagues verged on pathological.

Gervais pulled the plug on The Office after just two seasons and so clearly understands the wisdom of quitting while ahead. Has he forgotten that lesson with After Life?

As season three arrives, Tony is still unlikeable and still angst-ridden. He has, though, finally started to move on and to face the future, having embarked, albeit fitfully, on a relationship, with kindly care home nurse Emma (Ashley Jensen).

Having railed against “cancel culture” and defended a comic’s right to joke about whatever they see fit, Gervais is regarded as a divisive comedian. However, he also has a sentimental streak (as The Office Christmas special confirmed). So it is perhaps no surprise that the saving grace of After Life is the cast of lovable freaks assembled around Tony.

These include Diane Morgan’s nice-but-dense Kath and schlubby photographer Lenny (Tony Way). They’re an eclectic bunch of weirdos. And Gervais writes them with a sweetness and generosity of spirit, where a crueller comedian might have caricatured these individuals as misfits.

After Life’s jokes sometimes feel cruder than they need to be. Tony’s cruelty towards Emma is at times difficult to watch, too. The series nonetheless builds toward a genuinely upbeat denouement that gives everyone a happy ending.

It is a reminder that underneath that pitch-black wit, Britain’s most controversial mainstream comic is actually a bit of a softie.

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