Some shows don’t need three seasons, and “After Life” is certainly one of them. Though just because something isn’t necessary, doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable.
After watching the first two seasons of this series, which star Ricky Gervais as Tony Johnson, a recently-widowed features editor at the local paper The Tambury Gazette, I didn’t have any need to revisit Tambury and its colorful cast of characters, and this is probably because there wasn’t much more for Tony as a character to do other than to reach a point where he can function more as a human being, perhaps reaching the point where he was ready to get into a relationship with someone else. By Season 2, he’s come to reasonable terms with the death of his wife, Lisa (Kerry Godliman), who continues to appear in Season 3 via pre-recorded clips Tony watches often with a glass of wine in his hand, and it’s apparent that, while he’s past wanting to kill himself and has made progress to be there for his friends and family, his journey through grief is a slow one.
Season 3’s theme is change. Lenny (Tony Way) and June (Jo Hartley) get married. James (Ethan Lawrence) moves out of his mother’s house to live with Brian Gittins (David Earl), a hoarder Tony wrote about previous, whom he develops a very genuine friendship with. The Gazette’s new staffer, Coleen (Kath Hughes) transitions from living with her mother, to being financially-independent and living on her own. Kath (Diane Morgan) finds her solution to loneliness by season’s end. Tony finally lets Emma (Ashley Jensen) move on with her life, while remaining friends with him, knowing it will take him a lot longer to get to the point where he can date again.
But Tony is arguably the one who has changed the least, though the series does end with him being incredibly charitable to those close to him — a long way from his Season 1 crassness. The show tries to realistic with his grief, as Tony does not make an unrealistic leap by allowing himself to date Emma when he’s still in love with his wife, or pretend that he’ll ever completely get over her death, but he does learn to cope with it better.
There are brilliant moments in this show, especially in its final episode, where Tony has finally fully accepted his wife’s death and that it’s best for him to keep living and moving forward, and that he has people in his life than genuinely care about him and need him. James and Brian’s kinship is also great, as the two find solidarity in the lows they’ve experienced and use that to build each other up, and I appreciate how both took gradual steps up from where they were in previous seasons — it’s nice to have a show represent the fact that, most people don’t change their lives overnight, that they usually take gradual steps either to where they want to be, or learn to be content where they are.
I wish they had more for Matt Braden (Tom Basden), Tony’s boss and brother-in-law, to do. He helps Tony grow, but he just doesn’t have much of his own arc or story; he seems to be there mostly to give Tony something to do during the show’s filler scenes, which gets to my main criticism of this season.
I really think that Seasons 2 and 3 could have been condensed into one 8-episode series, because Season 3 just doesn’t have much to say, especially in its early episodes. It really feels like the showrunners had 2 1/2 episodes worth of material, and had to stretch it out over six episodes to match the previous seasons.
But what it does have to say about grief and acceptance of it is really good, and has nuance to it. “After Life” is definitely a different kind of show than both Netflix and traditional network TV usually offers. It’s a unique, slow-burning, almost slice-of-life show where nothing exceptionally dramatic happens, but you get to gradually watch this set of relatively ordinary characters learn, grow and become better people.
“After Life” Season 3 gets an 8/10