Gervais’ formula of two seasons and out (plus a follow-up special) worked well enough for the original “The Office” and “Extras.” But his filmography has been more uneven of late, with “After Life” very much in keeping with the writer-producer-star’s outspoken atheism and darker, if not irredeemable view of life.
By the end, Tony’s outlook had brightened, showing traces of generosity toward coworkers at the local newspaper where he grudgingly churned out human-interest stories, and finding a potential new romance in the nurse, Emma (Ashley Jensen, splendid as always), looking after his dementia-stricken dad (David Bradley).
The new season, however, finds Tony backsliding, again wallowing in grief to the point of endangering his relationship with Emma, who understandably struggles with his behavior. This continues, notably, despite the advice that Tony seems intent on ignoring from his cemetery pal Anne (Penelope Wilton), who chides him not to mess things up.
In the most uncomfortable real-life echo, the aforementioned newspaper is struggling financially — at a moment when that industry is painfully unraveling — posing an additional challenge to Tony’s boss and brother-in-law, Matt (Tom Basden), whose marriage is falling apart even as he presides over the paper’s woes.
From there, though, Gervais keeps veering into the semi-absurd, with over-the-top subplots such as Matt’s sessions with an abusively self-absorbed therapist, who spends way more time talking about himself; and Tony’s bizarre mail carrier (Joe Wilkinson), who doesn’t respect conventional boundaries.
Conceptually, it’s hard not to admire the audacity of building what’s ostensibly a comedy around crippling depression, featuring a protagonist who finds no comfort from religion or any of the usual balms used to provide comfort and ease such pain.
Even so, the balance feels a bit off in this latest go-round. And while “After Life” eventually reaches a relatively satisfying place, the show meanders — lost in a sort of narrative purgatory — longer than it should in getting there.
“After Life” begins its second season April 24 on Netflix.