After Life Season 3 Review: A warm goodbye to one of the warmest creative hugs of our times
After two seasons of Tony (Ricky Gervais) using every opportunity to share his grief with the folks at Tambury, Ricky allows the spotlight to rest firmly on the other inhabitants of this warm town
Grieving might seem a lonely path, but to be honest, it is a luxury that is only affordable by people who have a support system. Yes, it might seem a lonely path to nowhere, but forgetting the present and wallowing in the past cannot happen without others picking up your slack. And after two seasons of Tony (Ricky Gervais) using every opportunity to share his grief with the folks at Tambury, Ricky allows the spotlight to rest firmly on the other inhabitants of this warm town.
Cast: Ricky Gervais, Kerry Godliman, Penelope Wilton, Joe Wilkinson
Created by: Ricky Gervais
Streaming on: Netflix
Yes, it is still Groundhog day for Tony as his day begins and ends with watching videos of his Lisa (the brilliant Kerry Godliman). However, there are certain things he does to let us in on the fact that he is indeed ready to move on. The brilliance in the writing of After Life is the play around the concept of timing. Towards the end of Season 2, we saw how Emma (the reliable Ashley Jensen) decides to fit into the groundhog day living of Tony. This time around, she tries to cheer Tony up by suggesting doing things that he enjoyed doing with Lisa. This is in no way indicative of Emma wanting to replace Lisa. It is all about doing something to make Tony happy. And that’s the beauty of Tambury and its inhabitants. They continue to do what they were doing but time and again, they make an effort to see Tony happy. In fact, it is Tony, who pulls off a trick or two to see if Emma can actually replace Lisa, and when that doesn’t happen, he understands it is unfair on him to not let her go. The third and final season of After Life is all about Tony understanding the need to let go. Tony comes to the realisation that life has to move on, and not just for him.
Among the many poignant scenes in After Life, one that struck me most was Tony apologising to his brother-in-law Matt (Tom Basden) for not allowing the latter to grieve. This was the most affecting because as an audience, far away from the happenings of Tambury, even I didn’t realise that Matt too needed space to grieve about his deceased sister. We were so consumed in Tony’s grief and recuperation that seeing Matt be supportive of Tony seemed like the natural order of things. And just like Tony, we too start opening our eyes to the others in the series. We see a weird but blossoming friendship between Brian (David Earl) and James (Ethan Lawrence). We see Kath (Diane Morgan) coming to terms with her loneliness. We even find Anne (Penelope Milton) moving on with her life and finding someone new company to sit on that bench. Postman Pat (Joe Wilkinson) isn’t as accommodative as he thinks he is, and he moves on from Roxy (Roisin Conaty) for the betterment of both parties. Lenny (Tony Way) and June (Jo Hartley) are set to be married, and there is Coleen (Kath Hughes), a new intern who replaces Sandy (Mandeep Dhillon) from the previous seasons. This might feel like an information dump of sorts, but frankly, these characters have been part of Tony’s life over the past two seasons, and just like Tony, we too have been just customarily observing them. And when Tony decides to take a step back, the whole town of Tambury comes to life in our eyes too. Isn’t that a brilliant writing choice?
However, there are some choices that don’t really cut it. The absence of Sandy and Roxy in this season isn’t addressed at all. Despite them being as important as Anne or Emma to Tony’s recovery of sorts, just being footnotes in the third season is a downer. And some tying of loose ends is just too convenient that it almost seems farcical. But what really holds it all together is the uniformly fascinating performances from each character. Almost every actor gets a solid scene in this season, and boy, do they deliver! Look at how June reacts to James finally deciding to move out of the house, or even her definitive monologue about Tony cashing in Lisa’s insurance. Such performances mask the cracks forming in the well-constructed structures of After Life.
With this season, we also see how life has come a full circle for both Ricky and Tony. We see Tony visit a hospice for the terminally ill, and see him interact with cancer-stricken kids who question him on atheism, and the possibility of an after life. Knowing where Ricky and Tony stand on these things, these scenes could have gone any way, but it takes a route that puts a smile on all our faces. There is an ambiguous ending of sorts to the series, but I see it more as us finally coming to terms with Tony’s grief, and hoping he has come to it too. As Tony succinctly puts it, “That’s what we are all anyway… memories.”
And when I look back at the three seasons and eighteen episodes spent with Tony and his Tambury folks, I’ll remember it as a series that allowed me to shed copious tears, but never once failed to make me laugh or smile even when the tears flowed. In many ways, After Life thrived on letting us in on someone else’s grief, and made us ask ourselves uncomfortable questions. How would WE react to grief? Would we take to narcissism like Tony? Would we become acerbic? Would we become a wallowing mess? Would we become oblivious to other people’s emotions? Would we recede into a shell of our own? Would we lash out? Would we curse the world? As Tony and Brandy take a long walk away on the grounds of Tambury away from people who seemingly have their lives sorted, the only thing we are sure of is that we can’t really fashion a foolproof way of grieving. We just grieve. And then, one day… we will grieve less than the day before, and then one other day… we will grieve even less. That’s all we can ask for, and all we can do is hope we find a way back to feeling happy the way we used to…
You were a wonderful support system. Thank you, and take care, Tony.