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After Life

TV review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
After Life TV Poster Image
Cringe comedy about grief isn't easy to watch.

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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Show's humor is bitter and often mean-spirited, but messages of empathy and compassion come through the uncomfortable jibes. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Main character Tony is extraordinarily unkind to those around him, but his character shows growth over the series. Other characters praise him, sometimes unrealistically, but they're also depicted as whole people with their own strengths, weaknesses, pain. 

Violence

A grieving man is the main character. Many references to suicide, such as character's statement during therapy that "a good day is when I don't go around wanting to shoot random strangers in the face and then turn the gun on myself." Violence is infrequent but has a comic edge when it occurs, like when muggers threaten to kill someone for his money and wind up annoyed when the victim is willing to die (and fight). 

Sex

Jokes can border on the smutty: A therapist says a client fantasizes about killing his ex-wife while masturbating. An older man with dementia tells his nurse he'll give her a "good seeing to" and that he "kept the wife happy."

Language

Language is frequent and often used as a weapon, like when Tony calls a man a "fat, hairy, nosy c--ksucker" and a child a "tubby ginger c--t." Other colorful curses have variations on the word "f--k" as well as "a--hole," "s--t," "damn," "hell," etc. 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters often eat and drink at pubs; no one gets drunk. A character says he's going to take money to go buy drugs and not do the job he's being hired for. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that After Life is a dark comedy about a widower (Ricky Gervais) who abuses himself and the other people in his life in his grief. Colorful obscene language and mean-spirited comedy may be the most objectionable part of this show for some viewers. Gervais' Tony abuses others verbally, both strangers and those he knows well, characters who support and love him. He calls characters names like "c--ksucker" and "c--t" as well as "fat boy." Along with the language and nihilistic humor, there are jokes about suicide and murder, as well as sex and drugs. Messages of empathy and compassion are present, but characters can also be very unkind to each other. However, characters grow over the course of the series, and ultimately hard-won laughs and insights are gleaned.

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What's the story?

After the death of his beloved wife, Tony (Ricky Gervais) is having a rough AFTER LIFE. He's miserable whether he's at home alone with his dog or toiling at the free community newspaper he runs with his grieving brother-in-law, Matt (Tom Basden), and co-worker Lenny (Tony Way). Tony hates everyone and everything. But as he slowly learns, he's not alone in his pain -- and his next battle is learning how to connect to the people left in his life. 

Is it any good?

Mean-spirited and cringe-inducing at first, Gervais' comedy ultimately blossoms into something more heartwarming, but viewers who don't appreciate uncomfortable yuks may not be able to wait it out. In After Life's very first episode, Tony tells a young boy at his kid's school that he's not a "pedo" and "if I were, you'd be safe, you tubby little ginger c--t." He also calls a complete stranger a "fat, hairy, nosy c--ksucker" and continually greets his sweet-natured brother-in-law's attempts at friendship with utter contempt. His outlook, as he explains to his therapist: "If I become an a--hole and ... then it all gets too much, I can always kill myself. It's like a super power."

These are bitter laughs, but fans of Gervais will already know that he's able to put the tough stuff over. He may not win many new fans with After Life, though, at least not those who mind fighting through a truly crusty exterior to get to an only slightly gooey inside. On the way to Tony's ultimate redemption, he ruins lives. And yet there isn't a single stock character in the cast, and when these people connect, it's magic. One thing this show really gets right: understanding that even those who seem OK on the outside have their own hidden agony. It's nihilistic, it's painful, but with its hard-won emotional core, After Life may get to cynics most of all. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why grieving characters are relatively uncommon in movies and TV shows. Why are creators reluctant to tackle this subject? What about it is difficult or uncomfortable? Have you ever seen grief or the grieving process form the basis of a comedy before? Why or why not? 

  • Ricky Gervais is known for telling controversial jokes in his standup act. Do you find his humor funny? If you don't, will you enjoy After Life? Why or why not? Does the character of Tony make apologies for his unkind humor? Do the characters in this show accept it, and him? 

  • How do the characters in After Life demonstrate compassion and empathy? Why are these important character strengths?

TV details

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