After Life season two review: Is Ricky Gervais still funny?

Ricky Gervais returned to our overworked goggle-boxes yesterday and two questions immediately presented themselves: 1) Is he funnier than Prince William? 2) Is After Life funnier than The Office?
Ricky Gervais in After LifeRicky Gervais in After Life
Ricky Gervais in After Life

Now, Wills isn’t a comedian but I just wanted to mention him for taking part in The Big Night In (BBC1), the lockdown telethon which put him in a sketch (of sorts) with Stephen Fry. He didn’t do badly – and some of the real comics struggled with remote funstering – but when he confessed to not being able to find his trousers with Clap For Our Carers fast approaching, it would have been better if he’d followed through with the gag and appeared on the doorstep alongside his family wearing one of Kate’s Zara frocks.

So, not funnier than Gervais, but is Ricky still funny? Some would say not, claiming nothing he’s done post-The Office has matched it. That’s true, but After Life (Netflix), now on its second season, comes closest.

Hide Ad

It was remarkable how much of the opener related to our lives right now. The struggle to get out of bed. The half-drunk bottle of wine (“That’s from last night,” Gervais’ Tony tried to explain). The struggle of the local newspaper. The nurse calling round at the old folks’ home. An argument about science. Being nice to the postman.

The postie, asking to use Tony’s loo, promptly jumped in the bath. Annette Crosbie’s newly-crowned centenarian, interviewed by our man for the Tambury Gazette, let rip with so much foul-mouthed grumpiness that none of her quotes were usable. After that, Tony could be forgiven for foul-mouthed grumpiness himself, not least after a disastrous trip to a yoga centre, but he has an overarching reason for his rage: he’s still mourning the death of his wife.

There are echoes of The Office. Ashley Jensen’s nurse has a new admirer, self-confident and without baggage and coming on like David Brent’s rival from the Swindon office. Worryingly, After Life’s version of the boorish Finchy is the therapist.

But there the similarities end. After Life is not introducing us to an entire new troupe of comedy performers like The Office did; almost everyone here is already a Championship player bidding for the Premiership. This is a slower, quieter (when no one’s swearing), sadder, darker and braver work – and a more truthful portrayal of grief it might be hard to find.

I have so many favourite Keith Richards stories that they’re divided into categories and there’s one devoted to all the times the Rolling Stone has taken a tumble. Keef falling out of a coconut tree is the favourite but Keef cracking ribs in a library when he toppled from a ladder runs it a close second.

The library is in his home so the lockdown Live Aid got me excited: would we get to see where he keeps his books? Alas, no, but One World: Together at Home (BBC1) had its moments.

Hide Ad

Stevie Wonder showed himself to be still in good voice, alas Paul McCartney less so, but at least he was actually singing. Was Mick Jagger? Tom Jones, standing in front of a painting of his childhood home where tuberculosis forced him into lockdown for two years, wouldn’t dare mime. John Legend, duetting remotely with Sam Smith, had all his awards on prominent display. Sam decided: “I can’t compete with those Grammys so I’m going to rip open my shirt to the waist.”

Maybe this is how he parades around his home. Ellie Goulding, singing Elton John’s Your Song, seemed to be wearing her bra outside her blouse, a pop star letting herself go in quarantine, probably not bothering to ablute, just like you and me – and the heaving drinks trolley spied in the background got me worried.

Hide Ad

Elt was on the bill too and was definitely not faking it during I’m Still Standing. I know this because he sounded drunk – maybe he’d been round to Ellie’s gaffe, availing himself of all the Sweetheart Stout and Babycham in return for lending her his choon – or even like he was being strangled. Maybe I’m being uncharitable and of course One World wasn’t a competition. Still, I declare Michael Bublé the winner.

“The average person touches their face 2-3,000 times a day.” No, not Hugh Pym or Fergus Walsh this time but Dr Kate Winslet in Contagion, a nine-year-old movie that had disappeared from view until just a few weeks ago.

Now a big Netflix audience dutifully logs those chillingly chiming moments as the action switches from wet markets in the Far East to cities right round the world which are quickly forced into lockdown.

Jude Law plays a bampot conspiracy theorist and spreader of fake news who yells: “Print media is dying!” He doesn’t catch the virus, which is a great pity.

Related topics:



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.