Netflix’s After Life sees Ricky Gervais earnestly reevaluate his comedy style, and seemingly agree with his critics. The new six-part series follows Gervais as the recently widowed Tony whose grief drives him towards suicide and, when he doesn’t go through with, comedic tirades against the world around him.

On the surface, After Life would seem to belong more on the BBC than Netflix. Its short episode order, near-30 minute runtime and quaint coastal town setting betray sensibilities of the primary UK broadcaster than it does the increasingly-international streaming giant. There’s no laughter track and a one-camera setup, but with its colorful recurring characters and heightened everyday locations (the mundane stories of a local advertising newspaper) is clearly built like an old school style sitcom.

Yet those trappings aren’t reflected in the story, which pulls no punches in its frank exploration at loss, addiction and community. That Gervais has managed to target the heart as much as the funny bone is surprising (although not unprecedented from the endings to both The Office or Extras), although what’s so striking is how in doing so he takes direct aim at the style of comedy he’s made a trademark over the past few decades. Watch his standup or follow him on Twitter and you’ll find Ricky Gervais’ approach to humor one that’s heavily cynical and mocking. The success of this varies wildly by audience, but as the internet has enabled comedy to diversify in unexpected ways (and Netflix has pioneered improved access to a greater variety of comics), his critics have called it increasingly old-fashioned.

After Life sees Gervais tackle that with incredible self-awareness. The worldview of Tony in the early episodes where he’s lost all hope and, believing himself on borrowed time after an aborted suicide attempt, is that of a Gervais standup special, with a calloused take on those around him and lack of consideration for social convention. From beating up muggers with dog food to grabbing back fat of his dim-witted friend, this wouldn’t be out of place on a podcast or live show. However, rather than an understandable outlook on life, Gervais here presents them as the outward signs of depression, a brash coping mechanism that has no long-term impact on happiness. It’s The Invention of Lying, only where the mood switch has no upsides.

The level of introspection on show goes beyond simply using his writing style to tell a more emotional story; there’s a sense of grappling with why that writing style exists, has become so popular, and what it really offers to the world; After Life’s conclusion is that such a cut-off worldview is damaging and that finding the good in an unjust world is the right move forward. The finale is a little too upbeat and idealistic compared to the previous five episodes, making getting what Gervais is trying to say about his future difficult, but the overt manner in which it goes against much of what we’ve come to expect from his post-Merchant efforts suggests a major evolution.

All of Ricky Gervais’ famous characters have, to a degree, channeled himself; Andy Millman reflected the frustrations of being an on-the-brink-of-breakthrough creative, while - as with Steve Coogan and Alan Partridge - the line between him and David Brent has blurred heavily. But even in that company, Tony is different. Whereas previously these links felt somewhat subconscious, a result of “write what you know”, in After Life there’s an honesty that is self-critical yet not defeatist.

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