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.