January 14th was After Life 3 day.
For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, After Life is a TV show on Netflix, what critics might call a ‘bittersweet’ dark comedy, written and starring Ricky Gervais who plays Tony, a man who has lost his wife Lisa and is struggling to cope. Set in the small fictional town of Tambury, Tony is an everyman whose life has been torn apart in losing the one thing that made him whole.
It’s a work of genius.
The first episode of the first series was released on March 8th 2019 and I devoured the six episodes with relish. Gervais has always had the capacity to pluck at the heartstrings – the Christmas party scenes in ‘The Office’ specials really resonated with me – and I was ready made for a story about a man trying to cope after losing his wife, seeing myself in so many of the scenes.
Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one who loved it and After Life 2 was announced soon after, premiering in April 2020. The day it was released I did something I’ve never done before. With it starting in the early hours of the morning, I simply cancelled the day and watched it all back to back throughout the night. I wasn’t disappointed.
I was so moved by the writing in the twelve episodes available from the first two series that I contacted Ricky Gervais to compliment him. How he could have written that without having had experience of losing his wife is testament to how skilful a writer he is. To his credit, he wrote back and thanked me too.
With After Life 3 I was a little more circumspect on my viewing, with the show being released at 8am I staggered my 30 minute sessions through the day making sure I had a lunch in-between. The final scene left me both elated and deflated in equal measure. Elated because the promising relationship between Tony and Ashley Jensen’s character ‘Emma’ did fizzle out denying us the happy ending the show really didn’t need but looked as if it might be heading toward, and deflated just because the show had finished and had given me so many poignant moments.
There will be no After Life 4 and I think that’s a good thing. The ending for 3 described by Gervais as ‘Well .. life goes on’ – not how I saw it but how can you argue with the man who wrote it? – rounds things up admirably I suppose but, and I have to admit here, there were elements of the characterisation and story around Tony that didn’t really work for me this time out and the last episode in particular seemed clumsy and ill-advised, trying to tie off things that could have been left. However, It was Tony I was interested in and his story arc is the only one that matters and, even if I didn’t interpret the end as it was intended, then that’s OK.
The key scene in the third series for me – one that made me stop, get a drink, swallow hard and think on before continuing – was the scene with the lemon. It really was superb. Throughout the series we’ve seen Lisa – excellently and poignantly played by Kerry Godliman – appear only in flashback on Tony’s homemade videos. In this particular scene, on Tony’s video you see him drawing a face on a lemon and placing it back in a bowl ready for Lisa to pick it up as she cooks. Seeing the face Lisa complains to Tony, as he laughs, saying that she can’t use it now because of the face, exactly the reaction that Tony intended. It’s a beautiful moment; a superb observation of the type of small detail you find in a good relationship, one which the people concerned know only too well but would probably never mention to anyone else.
The key part of this scene though is that, after we witness the flashback video, we see Tony has drawn a face on a lemon for his new prospective girlfriend Emma to find. “You’ve drawn a face on this” she says, saying nothing more before cutting it up. You know a decisive moment in the relationship has passed.
I realised after seeing this that I’ve had my own lemon face moments. More importantly perhaps, is the fact that those moments don’t have to be engineered. That horrible moment where you’re trying to get along but find yourself cut adrift by someone missing a point or not being what you want them to be is a horrible feeling because, of course, it’s not the other person’s fault they don’t know what to do with the lemon any more than you can help how you feel about it. The result is a hideous sort of desolation; the sure knowledge that everything you ever had is gone and can’t be replaced however much you might think you want it.
It’s not true that if life gives you lemons you can always make lemonade.