After Life returns: But is it heavenly or hellish?

image copyrightNetflix
image captionTony and his late wife Lisa, during happier days

The second instalment of Ricky Gervais' darkly comic drama series After Life arrived on Netflix on Friday.

The show sees the return of the actor/director's lead character Tony Johnson, a local journalist coming to terms with losing his wife to cancer.

Its return will be welcomed by the many who have already devoured most of the available on-demand TV content, during this lockdown.

But, after a speedy binge watch, what did the critics make of it?

Well, not much according to the Independent, whose critic thinks Gervais "can do so much better than this bafflingly popular mess".

"This series is constantly looking for easy solutions - whether it's not bothering to film 'village' scenes outside of London or using swearing where good jokes ought to be," wrote Ed Cumming.

The Guardian gave the star a similar report, also to be filed under "must-try-harder".

"Ricky Gervais continues to not be as funny as in The Office," wrote Joel Golby, referring to his worldwide smash hit debut sit-com.

"The second series of the dark comedy won't win back those who left the comedian behind two or three sitcoms ago."

However, The Sun appeared to be watching a totally different show, labelling the follow-up as "unmissable" TV.

"After Life series 2 is even better and will leave you chuckling while you cry," wrote Steve Corbett.

"So wonderfully nuanced in humour and heartache with bereavement at its core, this is Ricky Gervais's finest work. In fact, it's one of the best shows we've ever watched."

The Express said Gervais is "exceptional" in what its critic described as an "unbeatable dark comedy".

"Tony was never going to magically get 'over' his wife dying through season one, and that isn't what happened," wrote Callum Crumlish. "Instead, Tony learned that it was okay be full of grief, and indeed that he will work through his trauma in his own time."

image copyrightNetflix
image captionTony takes his dad Ray (David Bradley) for a spin around the nursing home

Series one, which was also written and directed by its star Gervais, was released last year and was roundly praised for both its comedy and handling of bereavement, with Kerry Godliman appearing in heart-rending flashbacks as Tony's late wife Lisa.

Netflix's chief content officer Ted Sarandos said at the time: "After Life has moved audiences from laughter to tears around the world," adding they were "thrilled" to immediately commission the second series.

It was nominated for best most popular comedy programme at the National Television Awards, where it missed out to Mrs Brown's Boys. While receiving his award, the show's creator Brendan O'Carroll paid tribute to Gervais and After Life saying it's "one of the best things I've ever seen".

Gervais himself told BBC Radio 6 Music DJ Lauren Laverne on Thursday he had "never had a reaction like it", in terms of the outpouring of emotional responses he'd received.

Speaking to GQ Hype, the 58-year-old said the production, set in the fictional town of Tambury, is the first of his many comedies - including The Office, Extras, Life's Too Short and Derek - that has ever made him want to make a third series.

"The world's too rich. I don't have to go over old ground," explained Gervais.

"The first [series] was establishing a central character going through the world almost as if it's a video game."

"Now there's lots of 'meanwhiles'," he added, with a nod to the sub-plots of the show's other characters, including Tony's brother-in-law and boss of the Tambury Gazette, Matt (Tom Basden); fellow journalist Sandy (Mandeep Dhillon); photographer Lenny (Tony Way); and his girlfriend June (Jo Hartley).

image copyrightNetflix
image captionThe Tambury Gazette's finest: Tony, Sandy and Lenny

The development of these characters and more were not enough to impress the people at the The Telegraph though.

"Ricky Gervais's grief-driven comedy is just a rehash of the first series," wrote Ed Power.

"Nobody does pitch black humour as unflinchingly as Ricky Gervais," he added. "But even Gervais super-fans - the ones who can quote Brent by heart - may be put off by the unstinting bleakness of series two of his Netflix sitcom, After Life."

In real life, Gervais divides his time between his homes in London and New York, or at least he did before the lockdown, and hosted the Golden Globes for a fifth (and he says last) time in 2019.

Over in the States, CNN wrote that After Life "loses something the second time around".

"Ricky Gervais' After Life was a bittersweet little gem," wrote Brian Lowry. "But the first season basically told a reasonably complete story.

"As a consequence, the second six-episode run feels as if it's essentially retracing old territory - moving in places, but with less urgency, and more prone to silly detours to flesh out the run."

After Life 2 is available now on Netflix

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