When local journalist Tony Johnson is armed with a hammer and threatens to kill a schoolchild, he feels justified because he hates the world.
Following the death of his wife Lisa from cancer, Tony is struggling to cope and openly admits that he wants to die. He abuses people, from his postman to colleagues to randomers in the street – just because he can. If anything goes wrong, he has suicide to fall back on.
This Netflix original series – which was released on March 8, 2019 – follows Tony as he grieves for Lisa.
Tony, who is played by the series’ writer and creator Ricky Gervais, is the head of features for the Tanbury Gazette and it is during a newsroom rant about how unfair the world is that we get a sharp introduction to his character.
While the reasons behind his character’s abusive rants are serious, Gervais’ witty lines bring a welcome comedic relief to the dark themes the show explores.
After Life highlights how vulnerable men’s mental health can be and how it can take other forms than the usual quiet sadness that many come to expect. Tony is angry with the world and doesn’t care about anything. In fact, he views it as a ‘superpower.’
Some lighter comedy is smartly interspersed through the series too, particularly through the characters in the local town that Tony visits to interview for features. They include a boy who can play two recorders simultaneously with his nostrils and a man whose leaky pipes have created a stain on his wall that ‘looks like the face of Kenneth Brannagh.’ Given the state of local newspapers, these stories are sadly relatable to many viewers.
Elsewhere in Tony’s life, away from the reporter’s desk at which he sits, there are three pillars that slowly make him feel happier as the series progresses.
While Gervais is known for his controversial remarks, particularly when hosting large awards ceremonies, he tackles difficult topics throughout this series with great care and attention. Mental health is the main issue delicately yet explicitly explored, but each of the three ‘pillars’ represent other important themes.
He cares for and looks after his nephew George, building the first pillar of hope for his family and the future generation that will follow him through life.
When visiting his wife in the cemetery, he meets fellow mourner Anne, to whom he is kind and respectful. She shares her wisdom and Tony listens, taking things on board. This relationship builds the pillar of empathy and understanding, both critical during a period of grief.
The final pillar is the nurse who looks after his dementia suffering father in a nursing home. While Tony is rude to her at first, he starts to realise he is falling in love and invites her out for a drink after their relationship steadily improves. This relationship symbolises love and the ability to move on after grief.
When speaking to the media, Gervais has teased that a clue to the essence of the second series – which premieres on April 24 – is present within series one.
During one of their chats in the cemetery, Tony tells Anne: “I’m going to carry on saying and doing what I want and punishing the world, but I’m going to punish people who deserve it. I’m going to use my superpower for good.”