Recently I read a post on my Facebook feed about the release of the new Ricky Gervais series. The point it was trying to make is that, on the back of The Office and Derek that Afterlife would probably be awful. I’m paraphrasing the post said something along the lines of: “I’ll save you the trouble of watching the new Ricky Gervais show. It’s just another 6 episodes of him being a jerk to people”
In some ways, the poster is not wrong. It certainly does feature a lot of Ricky Gervais taking the piss out of people. And in typical Gervais fashion, he does so unapologetically and it is atypically awkward. The highlight is probably when he threatens to bash in a primary school kid with a hammer.
However, this isn’t just the tale of someone who is an asshat. It’s a story of redemption. Yes, Tony is an ass. He was an ass before his wife died and if anything that is ramped up by his grief. However, from the wreckage of his life, he makes a journey and becomes a better person for it. In many ways, the show brings a message of hope.
The supporting cast
Although it is worth watching for Gervais alone the supporting cast is fantastic. If the scenes with David Bradley playing Tony’s father don’t move you to tears then you might not even have emotions. The pair have a natural rapport and the performance by Bradley is what you’d expect from an acting veteran.
Ashley Jensen features as Tony’s loves interest. This is the second time she has starred alongside Gervais having previously taken on the role of the adorably ditzy Maggie in Extras. She is wonderful in this role. The part must have been particularly poignant considering her husband took his own life just two years ago. To appear in something so intrinsically linked to grief is brave and commendable.
It is a comedy, but don’t expect belly laughs throughout. Most of the humour comes in the form of Tony’s treatment of people and his attitude. While it is meant to be over the top, unfortunately, people do exist that are just “like that”. However, there is a lot of emotional depth in this and it covers some dark subject matters. This is not “the office” this is a very different animal.
Criticism of Ricky
Let’s be honest the guy is like Marmite isn’t he? The thread on Facebook contained people pointing to his show with Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington, where Gervais and Merchant poke fun at Pilkington. The point they were making is that Gervais is a bully. And yes a lot of his roles show that to be the case. But Gervais is a comedian.
One of the first lessons they teach you at comedy school (it’s a thing) is to create a persona. Like back in the day when Roy “chubby” Brown donned his signature hat he became a foul-mouthed pervert. That was his character, a role he played. Gervais plays the guy that rips on people and he does it with aplomb. And I have no doubt that if you went to the pub for a pint with him he’d be king of the banter. But if you follow him on Twitter you will know he is a big advocate for animal rights and actually a fairly stand-up guy.
People see characters like Derek and assume it is his way of taking pot shots at the “mentally ill” those people have probably yet to watch Derek. Gervais, in his writing for the show Extras, makes fun of himself. He knows it’s a character he plays well and it makes him a lot of money. But it is just a character.