After Life review – 5 reasons to watch: Ricky Gervais' 'dark comedy' is actually his sweetest TV show yet

Don't be fooled by the premise, After Life is joyous television to lift your spirits and celebrate the little things in life.

The public image of Ricky Gervais has never matched his TV shows.

Tim and Dawn's festive kiss to Yazoo's Only You in The Office Christmas special. Andy Millman's desperate apology to Maggie, while stuck in the Celebrity Big Brother house with Lionel Blair in Extras. Derek's baby monkey riding on a pig.

Okay, ignore the last one, but for a comedian so often portrayed as 'outrageous' and 'offensive', his TV sitcoms are always had heart at the centre of everything he does, even if sometimes its buried deeper than others.

After Life is a six-episode sitcom about Tanbury Gazette journalist Tony, who has been unable to deal with the death of his wife from cancer and is lashing out at the world.

He believes he has found a new super power in being brutally honest to everyone he meets, no matter how crude, cruel or rude, and has all but given up on life – with the only thing stopping him from ending it all being his pet dog.

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After Life on Netflix

Cancer, death, suicide, existentialism… local journalism. None of these immediately grab you as a rich source of giggles and most viewers will probably go into the series expecting bleakness and pitch black humour.

That expectation couldn't be more wrong, as Gervais ramps up the joy and sweetness that he has sprinkled over his previous shows and adds in an extra-large helping of life-affirming goodness.

Don't get us wrong, After Life has some of Gervais' most brutal one-liners ever - including some unforgettable scenes with a school bully and his work rival Kath (Diane Morgan).

And when Tony finds himself reaching a new low of experimenting with heroin, it's hard to imagine how this came from the same comic mind who delivered the David Brent dance or the Karl Pilkington podcasts. But behind the horribly sad story of death and depression, there is sweetness, laughter and a lot of Kevin Hart.

Here are five reasons you should watch After Life on Netflix:

The joy

After Life - Netflix

Ricky Gervais' biggest critics often get most aggrieved at his stubbornness and refusal to back down.

It isn't necessarily the fact that he causes offence with a joke, but the fact he doesn’t apologise or accept chinks in his armour that irks.

Gervais is very firmly in the camp that people make a choice when they're 'offended' by a joke and that comics shouldn't alter their art.

But just because Gervais regularly aims his fire at those who get upset over gags, doesn't mean that he’s impervious to criticism or introspection.

After Life shows that brutal honesty can be very funny, but it also explores the idea the defence of full freedom of speech doesn't stop you being a bit of *insert your own expletive*.

Tony's misanthropic atheist outlook on life might not be too giant a leap from the real-life Gervais, but despite his newly discovered 'super power', he's not a very sympathetic character for long stretches of the show.

Gervais isn't going soft and we’re sure that his atheism remains rock solid, but in characters like Diane Morgan's Kath and Roisin Conaty's Roxy, he's exposes his soft underbelly.

Tony initially turns his nose up at Kath's life – watching Kevin Hart films on repeat – but by the end of the series and a touching snow globe moment between the squabbling co-workers, Gervais showcases a joy for the small things in life and appreciation for his own faults.

Diane Morgan, David Earl, Penelope Wilton, David Bradley, Roisin Conaty… the list goes on

After Life - Netflix

Gervais has assembled an Avengers-style super squad of comic actors for After Life, pulling together some of his previous collaborators, Kerry Godliman (Derek) and Ashley Jensen (Extras), with national treasures Penelope Wilton (Downton Abbey) and David Bradley (Broadchurch).

Diane Morgan probably gets the most scene-stealing moments, including a classic office discussion over dream dinner party guests involving Princess Diana, James Corden and Kevin Hart.

But none of the ensemble is wasted. David Earl only makes a couple of brief appearances, but they're so deliciously surreal you won't forget them. Similarly, Joe Wilkinson makes a small Postman Pat gag so much funnier than it should be.

The chemistry between the co-stars, perhaps most notably Roisin Conaty as prostitute ("Sex worker!") Roxy, acts as the glue for a series that is at its core, all about the relationships we hold dearest, friends, family and colleagues.

The soundtrack

From his use of Yazoo in The Office and Coldplay in Derek to the hits of Led Zeppelin, Roxy Music and David Bowie in the film Cemetery Junction, Geravis’ choice of soundtracks are never coincidental or slapdash.

After Life is no different with each closing sequence getting a suitably excellent soundtrack ranging from the darkness of Nick Cave's Into My Arms to the warmth of James Taylor's You've Got A Friend.

Elton John, Daughter and Lou Reed are also among the perfect-for-a-Spotify-playlist collection

Local journalism treasures

After Life - Netflix

The focus of After Life might be on bleak topics, but across every episode Gervais doesn’t forget to throw in some silly giggles.
Poking fun at the more ridiculous side of local journalism – anyone seen a potato that looks like Lionel Richie? – Tony's trips out to meet Tanbury's residents provide the biggest belly laughs.

A baby that looks like Hitler, a man who can play two recorders with his nose and best of all, a women creating rice puddings for her neighbour with breast milk, are a pleasing palate cleanser amid the darker undertones of After Life.

That dog

After Life - Netflix

Gervais' adulation for dogs is well-known and it wouldn't be surprising if the entire premise of the series was designed for him to spend several weeks on set, stroking and cuddling

Watching the dogs journey from puppy to loyal friend and life-saver - even cat-lovers will be desperate for a cuddle with Anti.

After Life is streaming now on Netflix - Netflix membership required.

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