I kept walking in on my partner last week quietly crying over the laptop. Not, as might be reasonable to expect, because she is stuck in an infinite current affairs loop, never knowing when she might be freed from the horrors, but because she has been watching Ricky Gervais’s new sitcom, After Life, on Netflix. “You’re not allowed to watch it with me,” she said, pointedly closing the lid. “I’m enjoying it and you’ll ruin it. Go somewhere else.”Rude, I thought, and then said something about how the reviews hadn’t been very good anyway, which only proved her point. The reviews I read have not been particularly kind, it’s true, but already After Life seems to have reached Bohemian Rhapsody levels of division between what critics have made of it and what real-life viewers think. On a recent episode of Gogglebox, the families who do not usually agree on what they’re watching all collapsed into paroxysms of laughter at a gag about Gervais’s character, Tony, being called a “paedo”.
Though Netflix is notoriously cagey about its viewing figures, anecdotally, it is one of those rare shows that everyone seems to be watching or at least talking about. Outside of newspapers and websites, most people I’ve spoken to have really liked it. It has already been picked up for a second series.
I hate being left out of anything, particularly an argument about whether television is good or not, so I watched After Life alone, where I could only ruin it for myself. I could see the points at which it tries so hard to tug on heartstrings, but it was far more pleasant to allow myself to be emotionally manipulated than to resist and, by the end, I was in bits, having thoroughly enjoyed it and laughed a lot. (One of the few quibbles I had was whether Gervais was eating fishfingers, since I thought he was a vegetarian. That was answered by the internet, which always provides: they are vegan fishfingers.)
One of the issues some people had with the show was that Tony was nasty, but surely he’s supposed to be acting that way. His wife has died and left him in a state of nihilistic despair. His dickishness is the point. It’s well worth reading an in-depth interview that Gervais gave to the New York Times in which he gamely tackles the idea of comedy in an age of social media and cancel culture, and provides plenty of (veggie) food for thought. Anyway, it turns out I would have been safe to watch After Life with. The “paedo” joke is very, very funny.