After Life (Netflix)
After Life is basically a remake of Lethal Weapon, in which a suicidal widower with nothing to lose embarks on a life of angry, reckless confrontation. Except instead of Mel Gibson wielding a submachine gun on the streets of LA, it’s Ricky Gervais subjecting people to heavy sarcasm in a sleepy English market town.
Blindsided by the death of his wife (Kerry Godliman), the only thing stopping Tony (Gervais) killing himself is his dog. (‘If you could open a tin, I’d be dead now,’ he tells her.) He’s contemptuous of his reporters’ job on the local freesheet, where he spends his days listlessly interviewing attention-seeking oddballs, like the man with rising damp in the shape of Kenneth Branagh.
Most of all, though, he’s turned from an apparently decent guy into a toxic misanthrope who takes grim satisfaction in saying whatever he likes, with no fear of the consequences.
It’s a trait that provides useful cover for Gervais to trot out sermons on many of his pet peeves (fame, religion etc) and make edgy, taboo-popping jokes about everything from dementia to child abuse. As ever, it’s impossible to tell where he ends, and the character begins.
On one level, the show is an unflinching study of love and grief (‘I’d rather be nowhere with her, than somewhere without her,’ says Tony) and it goes to some pretty dark places, including a heroin overdose.
Ultimately, though, it’s a redemptive story, about a man slowly coming back to life, helped by the kindness of friends and strangers, including Tom Basden as his boss/brother-in-law, Mandeep Dhillon as a rookie reporter and the reliably fabulous Penelope Wilton as a kindly widow. Plus who can fail to raise a smile at the idea of Gervais and Ashley Jensen – his old oppo from Extras – as 2019’s Tim and Dawn?
From a caustic start, After Life slowly evolves into something more sweet and sentimental. In fact by the final episode it’s virtually a Richard Curtis movie. Which may well be a failing on Gervais’ part. But by then you’ll be sobbing too much to care.
Back for a second run, Dan Sefton’s hidden gem of a hospital comedy just got even better with the arrival of Daniel Mays as (what else?) a wheeler-dealing spiv. Edward Easton is terrific in the lead as a lovesick porter pining for Claudia Jessie’s nurse, while Rutger Haeur (Rutger Haeur!) provides spiritual guidance as the Obi-Wan of orderlies. Plus what’s not to love about Derry Girls’ Sister Michael (Siobhan McSweeney) as a kick-ass, taser-happy head of security?
How to Go Viral: The Art of the Meme (BBC Four)
In this fascinating, witty documentary, Professor Richard Clay traced the history of memes, from Roland Barthes and Marcel Duchamp to LADbible and LOLcats. Among his interviewees was Richard Dawkins, who coined the word meme in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, little knowing it would one day lead to millions of people around the world watching a waffle falling over, in a five-second video called Waffle Falling Over.
Published in Waitrose Weekend, March 21, 2019
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