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Review: Ricky Gervais’s After Life Is a Mind-Numbing Bore

The Netflix show’s linking of cruelty and emotional healing is dubious at best.

1.5

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After Life
Photo: Netflix/Natalie Seery

In After Life, series creator and writer Ricky Gervais stars as Tony, a grief-stricken widower who freely indulges his capacity for brutal bluntness, and in the most self-serving of ways. Tony’s evolution into an asshole isn’t just an involuntary symptom of his emotional pain. For him, it’s also a goal worth pursuing—a way to punish the world for his misfortune. The Netflix show’s linking of cruelty and emotional healing is dubious at best, and ultimately just an excuse for Gervais to spit his acerbic wit at easy targets.

Gervais’s sharply honed comedic timing and delivery are undeniable, even when he’s working with such tiresome or obvious material as this. Throughout After Life, Tony rants about people chewing too loudly or dragging their feet when they walk, and while these aren’t novel grievances, Gervais’s exasperation can be contagious. The comedian is most effective in scenes when Tony, a features writer at a free weekly paper, is tasked with whipping up stories about local curiosities. When reporting on a baby who looks like Hitler, or a stain that vaguely resembles Kenneth Branagh, the man’s cynicism echoes our own wariness of the motivations of fame seekers and would-be viral sensations.

Still, the cumulative effect of these interactions and the countless others in which Tony berates or belittles the people in his life is ultimately numbing. Curb Your Enthusiasm, another series about a misanthrope nitpicking others for their idiosyncrasies, is After Life’s obvious reference point. The comedic target in that enduring series, however, is Larry David and all of his neuroses. In After Life, even as Tony’s behavior turns self-destructive, we get the sense that Gervais admires, above all, the ease with which Tony disarms and dominates his conversational partners; the character even refers to it as a superpower.

As a director, Gervais’s workmanlike and unremarkable sensibility contrasts with his bombastic sense of humor. Each episode features many of the same settings, and when Tony visits his therapist (Paul Kaye), his father (David Bradley), or his office, the camera is always reliably placed in the same position. Because there are very few scenes that take place in other locales, After Life feels stagey, as if the English hamlet Tony occupies is actually one large set.

The show’s sense of artifice extends to the characters who surround Tony, appearing to exist only as they relate to him. This occasionally makes for an unexpectedly moving portrait of friendship, such as the one between Tony and Lenny (Tony Way), a punching-bag buddy who, we learn, tolerates Tony because he senses his pain. Other times, Tony’s relationships can be confounding: When a new co-worker (Mandeep Dhillon) tells Tony, teary-eyed, that his sadness is breaking her heart, the moment is genuinely shocking, if only because it’s just the second truly substantive conversation we see these two characters share.

At one point in the series, when Tony does grasp the harm he causes others, and ultimately decides to use his superpower “for good,” Gervais tries and fails to derive didactic moralism from After Life’s premise—perhaps because it’s never clear which Tony best represents Gervais’s voice. Is it the reformed jerk, wistfully apologizing to his friends, or the brash bully, who considers it an act of temerity to curse at a 10-year-old?

A speech in a late episode finds Tony extolling the value of life and love to his co-workers, in stilted words that veer toward Hallmark sentimentality. Perhaps his words ring hollow because Tony seems to have rushed to the conclusion that arbitrary meanness is wrong. It might also be that Gervais’s formidable wit is better suited for bitterness than sweetness. When Tony strings together imaginative combinations of curses and insults, he can be funny, or at least clever. But when attempting to expound on life’s beauty, he’s simply boring.

Cast: Ricky Gervais, Kerry Godliman, Tom Basden, Tony Way, Penelope Wilton, David Bradley, Ashley Jensen, Paul Kaye, Mandeep Dhillon Airtime: Netflix

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Watch: Two Episode Trailers for Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone Reboot

Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes.

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The Twilight Zone
Photo: CBS All Access

Jordan Peele is sitting on top of the world—or, at least, at the top of the box office, with his sophomore film, Us, having delivered (and then some) on the promise of his Get Out. Next up for the filmmaker is the much-anticipated reboot of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, which the filmmaker executive produced and hosts. Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes, “The Comedian” and “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet.” In the former, Kumail Nanjiani stars as the eponymous comedian, who agonizingly wrestles with how far he will go for a laugh. And in the other, a spin on the classic “Nightmare at 20,0000 Feet” episode of the original series starring William Shatner, Adam Scott plays a man locked in a battle with his paranoid psyche. Watch both trailers below:

The Twilight Zone premieres on April 1.

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Review: Amazon’s Hanna Quickly Exhausts the Novelty of Its Premise

The series fails to uphold, subvert, or otherwise comment on the stylistic vision or thematic coherence of its source material.

1.5

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Hanna
Photo: Amazon Prime

Like the 2011 film upon which it’s based, Amazon’s Hanna follows the eponymous teen (Esme Creed-Miles) as she embarks on a revenge mission against a shadowy spy agency. The series milks visceral thrills from Hanna’s fight skills as she kicks, punches, shoots, and kills burly adult men. But where Joe Wright’s film was distinguished by its thumping Chemical Brothers score, bluntly filmed and brutal action scenes, and strikingly lensed locations, the series neither carves a unique path for itself nor upholds, subverts, or otherwise comments on the stylistic vision or thematic coherence of its source material.

After an opening sequence that sees Hanna’s parents fleeing for their lives from the spy agency, the series flashes forward to regard Hanna training with her ex-military father, Erik (Joel Kinnaman), in the woods where they live in solitude. When the duo is eventually forced to flee their safe haven, Erik reveals to Hanna that he’s actually been preparing her to hunt and kill a villainous C.I.A. agent named Marissa Wiegler (Mireille Enos). While Marissa is shown in flashback to be nefariously connected to Hanna’s childhood, Erik tells Hanna nothing else about her target. Consequently, the central mystery of Hanna’s origin, and Marissa’s role in it, is predicated on the secrets that Erik keeps from her for reasons that are never made clear.

Every episode of the series more or less follows the same format, as slow-burning cloak-and-dagger spy games eventually yield a few more revelations about Hanna’s past before leading to an eruptive and often incoherently filmed climax. The season’s middle stretch is particularly dull, as Erik and Hanna’s first attempt to kill Marissa goes awry and the teen finds herself stranded with a vacationing English family. Hanna attempts to use the relationship which emerges between Hanna and the family’s daughter, Sophie (Rhianne Barreto), to yoke a violent revenge plot to a coming-of-age teenage drama—which doesn’t work, chiefly because it’s impossible to understand why the otherwise unremarkable Sophie would be suddenly obsessed with Hanna, who’s nearly feral and prone to extreme violence.

Of course, Sophie’s fascination with her new friend is mysterious in part because Hanna herself is purposefully difficult to know, with Creed-Miles uses her open face and wide eyes to portray Hanna with a faraway look and a curious intelligence. The girl is inscrutable by Erik’s design, but less understandable is why the adults in the series, particularly Marissa, are similarly vague. Throughout, Hanna goes to great lengths to make its villain, who’s shown committing heinous acts, more sympathetic to the viewer. Certain plot twists suggest that Marissa may be ready to deal with her guilt over the nature of Hanna’s being, yet Enos’s severe, unsmiling performance and the season’s hectic third act go a long way toward muddying our sense of whatever change of heart the woman may be experiencing.

This muddled depiction of Marissa’s ostensible moral transformation, along with the introduction of a cabal of more menacing villains operating alongside her, rob the season finale of catharsis—which is about the only quality otherwise still preserved in the vicious retributions doled out by Hanna. Just as the series struggles to define Marissa’s motivations, it doesn’t hint at what might eventually happen to the rest her shadowy organization. The season’s conclusion asks as many questions as it answers, appearing to exist only so that Hanna may sustain itself, offering more henchman bones for Hanna to snap without wondering whether the character should, or even wants to, keep snapping them.

Cast: Esme Creed-Miles, Mireille Enos, Joel Kinnaman, Khalid Abdalla, Rhianne Barreto, Benno Fürmann, Sam C. Wilson, Félicien Juttner Airtime: Amazon Prime

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Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!

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Deadwood
Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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