Ger­vais plays a wid­ower with a grudge against the world in ‘Af­ter Life’

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - On Tv -

Tony is a guy firmly stuck in the sec­ond stage of grief: anger. And for that the world will pay.

In “Af­ter Life,” which be­gins stream­ing Fri­day, March 8, on Net­flix, Ricky Ger­vais (“The In­ven­tion of Ly­ing,” the U.K. ver­sion of “The Of­fice”) is cre­ator, writer and star of this dram­edy that fol­lows the jour­ney of Tony, a small-town English jour­nal­ist whose idyl­lic life is rocked to its core by the can­cer death of his wife, best friend and love of his life, Lisa (Kerry Godli­man, “Derek”). Though she still ap­pears to him in videos made while she was un­der­go­ing treat­ment, they only serve to un­der­score the gap­ing void now in his life.

Ini­tially sui­ci­dal, this oth­er­wise nice guy re­solves to live long enough to pun­ish the world by say­ing and do­ing what­ever he wants. So if some­one is a jerk, he’ll let them know in no un­cer­tain terms – and in Ger­vais’ typ­i­cally acer­bic fash­ion.

That’s seen in the open­ing episode, when Tony is con­fronted in an al­ley­way by two young toughs de­mand­ing money. At this point, Tony doesn’t care if he lives or dies, so he ba­si­cally tells them where to go and punches one in the face. They go scur­ry­ing and he feels an ex­tra­or­di­nary free­dom brought on by a loss of fear.

“He’s sort of like a ver­bal vig­i­lante and a bit more,” Ger­vais ex­plains. “And you know, when he gets mugged and he fights back, he would never have done that when his wife was alive. And so I want the au­di­ence to vi­car­i­ously live through his lib­erty in a sense. Be­cause you know, we hand over our money to a mug­ger be­cause we might have a baby in a stroller. And he thinks, ‘I don’t care what hap­pens to me.’ He thinks it’s a su­per­power.”

Of course, Tony’s fam­ily and friends – among them brother-in-law Matt (Tom Bas­den, “Plebs”) and pal Lenny (Tony Way, “Edge of To­mor­row”) – aren’t thrilled with this new­found su­per­power and would just as soon have the old Tony back. But Tony is mired in his grief and self-pity, get­ting drunk, try­ing heroin and strik­ing up an un­likely friend­ship with Daphne (Roisin Conaty, “GameFace”), a pros­ti­tute with a dry wit who turns out to be the only per­son who re­ally gets him.

“Be­cause she doesn’t judge ...,” Ger­vais says. “She speaks her mind and she knows what he’s go­ing through . ... And then she was funny and she was smarter than he thought be­cause, you know, he says, ‘Why do you do what you do?’ She said, ‘You’re only ask­ing me that be­cause of what I do.’ ”

In the end, the griev­ing process runs as long as it runs and it can’t be hur­ried or forced. Ul­ti­mately it is up to Tony to want to get bet­ter.

“We feel sorry for our­selves, so some­times you need to talk to your­self a lit­tle bit,” Ger­vais says. “You know, you have to go, ‘Come on. Come on.’ Even his brother-in­law, he seems a bit wet and wimpy and a bit of a fussy sort of bore but he’s do­ing the right thing. He’s try­ing to save this guy he once knew who’s a nice guy and he bends over back­wards (to shrug) off stuff. So yeah, you’re lucky if you’ve got peo­ple that care about you.”

Ricky Ger­vais stars in “Af­ter Life,” pre­mier­ing Fri­day on Net­flix.

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