Few shows tackle loss quite the same way as After Life. Last year’s effort was magical, coming completely out of left-field and hitting you with an emotional bag of tears and laughs, all the while doing so with a meaningful story about loss and moving on. When Gervais announced he’d be following that up with a second season, I struggled to see where the story could go from the perfect ending we received.
In a way, these problems with a continuing narrative is one of the biggest hindrances with season 2. There’s no denying that these six episodes really dive in hard with issues surrounding loss and tragedy, with this reviewer watching some scenes through teary-eyes and sobbing. Individually, the scenes are as good, if not better, than some of the material in the first season and individual characters are given some lovely story arcs right the way through (especially the postman). As a collective narrative however, this just doesn’t quite hit the same heights as the excellent first season.
The story this time picks up with Tony, still struggling with the loss of his wife but making a conscious effort to try and be kind to those around him. At work he finds himself torn as Matt starts to follow the same slippery path he did last season, seeing his unhelpful psychiatrist who simply tells him to man up. There is a small narrative arc running through this season, with the newspaper on the cusp of being shut down and Tony’s will he/ won’t he dance with Emma ending on a satisfying note at the end but beyond that a lot of the show simply shines with its individual moments.
The comedy is classic Gervais territory and if you were a fan of the first season, you’ll love what’s on offer here too. Be prepared for some hilarious commentary on all thing spiritual – thanks in part to Kath’s ideals being picked apart bit by bit – and the various bits of banter with the different characters are really well put together. Ultimately though it’s the poignant, honest scenes about loss that really make this season shine. Tony is a lot more open with his feelings this time around and the bitter facade last year has shattered slightly, allowing for something a lot more profound and heartbreaking to shine through.
There’s a thin line between comedy and tragedy and After Life is one of those rare gems that walk that perfectly. The show isn’t an outright tragedy but it’s not a particularly lighthearted comedy either. It’s one of those shows that confidently portrays its material with an equal amount of confidence to pull off both extreme emotional states.
It’s a clever set-up because aside from those big emotional moments, After Life season 2’s story takes a while to kick in and when it does, there just isn’t a whole lot of substance to it. The first season was near perfection, managing to say something profound about loss and tragedy like few shows have done before but season 2 simply reinforces those foundations with a message of “Life goes on”.
Overall though After Life is an easy show to get through – with a similar run-time of around 3 hours – and a lot of big, emotional moments along the way. It’s a wonderful follow-up in its own right but also one that doesn’t quite hit the same narrative heights as the first one. It’s a decent enough follow-up that’s heightened by its big emotional moments that’ll almost certainly have you laughing and crying – sometimes at the same time.
Verdict - 8/10