After Life [Netflix, 2019]

I’m a bit of an odd duck. I suppose if you’ve been reading the blog for any amount of time you might already know that, but if you don’t, what I mean is that I’m especially fond art that is visceral. Movies and TV are no exception. Generally speaking, I don’t care for happy endings and everything wrapping up neatly with a bow on it. I don’t like shallow characters or fluffy, lightweight stories where you never really care what happens or who it happens to. And what I really enjoy, weird as it may sound, are sad things. Sad verging on (or delving into) depressing.

A great example of what I’m talking about is my current favorite TV show, Bojack Horseman, which is coming to a close with the release of its final 8 episodes tomorrow. The show balances humor with sadness in a way that still makes me marvel, and I’m worried/excited that the final episodes of the show will be devastating. However, before I jump into that lake-sized pool of depression, let me tell you about another show that accomplished much of the same emotional roller coaster ride for me: After Life.

As is often the case, I’m a little late to the party in talking about this—the show debuted on Netflix almost a year ago. It was one of those shows I had been meaning to get to but just never got around to, until, lo and behold, I had a lazy Saturday morning all to myself and decided to check out the first episode. Six episodes and several laughs (and a few tears) later, I sat in awe of what I’d just watched.

Ricky Gervais stars as Tony, a happily married dog owner and journalist for his town’s local newspaper. When he loses his wife to cancer, Tony is devastated. He considers ending it all, only to find he can’t because he doesn’t want to leave the dog behind—he cites the dog several times in the first couple episodes as being his sole reason to go on living. Instead, he decides that since life has lost all meaning, if he’s going to go on living, he’s going to do it on his terms, by doing and saying whatever he wants, to whoever he wants. He proceeds to act recklessly for quite some time and enjoys every minute of it. He even refers to it as his superpower. Since he has nothing left to live for (except the dog), nothing can hurt him. He can literally do anything. Tony then proceeds to try heroin, threaten a schoolboy with a hammer (much funnier than it sounds), and tell people off, usually in a very satisfying and spectacular fashion.

The feelings of despair and grief Tony experiences are well-written and palpable. If you’ve experienced loss recently (or even suffered a significant loss at all) the show could trigger some emotions, so brace yourself. Also sad and poignant are the interactions Tony has with his dad, living in an assisted living facility as he slowly loses his battle with dementia. In actuality, theses scenes in particular were the ones that got to me the most, due to the situation with my own dad right now (not dementia but poor health).

But don’t worry that the show is too depressing. Like I mentioned earlier in regard to Bojack, After Life succeeds in deftly balancing all the heaviness with incredible bouts of humor. Sharp jabs, wacky characters, and a bit about a baby who looked like Adolf Hitler that had my wife and I in stitches. This show is one of the only instances I can think of where a show 1) actually moved me to tears (it’s incredibly difficult for movies or TV to make me cry), and 2) had me laughing again before I even had the tears out of my eyes. And can you doubt you won’t be made to laugh by a guy who posts selfies like this?

The only real criticism I have with the show is its final episode, which I felt was a little sappy and heavy-handed as Tony realized what a nasty troll he’d turned into and decided to try and be a better person. But by that time, the ride I’d been taken on made a slightly ham-fisted closing few minutes easy to digest.

If you like your viewing experience both sweet and sour, I’d highly recommend giving After Life a shot. It served as nice preparation for the emotional storm that will come tomorrow as I begin watching those final episodes of Bojack. I am thirsty for more, however! Give me some of your favorite things that make you sad below, because I’ll take all the depressing and melancholy I can get.

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