Review By Frances Winston
Directed by: Ricky Gervais – Starring: Ricky Gervais, Ashley Jensen, Kerry Godliman, Diane Morgan, David Bradley, Penelope Wilton, Tony Way, Paul Kaye, Tom Basden, Joe Wilkinson
Available now on Netflix
If you haven’t seen season one of this award-winning show (and why not after six weeks in lockdown) it follows a widower, Tony (Gervais) who is struggling to come to terms with the death of his wife, Lisa (Godliman). It is as bleak and dark as it sounds, but strangely warm and comforting. If anyone reading this hasn’t had to confront the death of a loved one you are lucky. And if you have (which is most people) then you’ll recognise different aspects of the grieving process in the character.
Season two picks up where season one left off. Tony is in an ever so slightly better place, with thanks to his support network, whom he has reluctantly allowed in his life. He is still grieving for Lisa, but is ever so slowly learning to function. The other characters get far more chance to shine this season, with several subplots involving their stories.
Tony inadvertently finds himself helping them all with their own personal crises, because “it’s better to be needed”. Gervais has done a great job of writing well-rounded characters, and employing a fantastic cast to portray them, and it never feels like their stories have been shoehorned in.
While touching on some very dark elements of the human condition, Gervais also delves into some non PC areas as only he can. Since Tony is a reporter on a local paper, where weird and wonderful stories are the order of the day, it somewhat gives him carte blanche to introduce things, in the context of the plot, which may prove contentious (a man identifying as a teenage girl may raise some eyebrows). However, he also uses the conceit of his character’s job to highlight issues such as elderly loneliness.
This is not as heart tending as the first series, but will still have you reaching for the tissues. For a six episode series, there are perhaps too many characters vying for attention, but if you analyse them as all representing different aspects of the human condition, then it doesn’t seem nearly as cluttered. And if you just watch this in the spirit which it was intended – a gentle human drama reflecting on the effect of love and loss on a life, then it is a lovely watch.
Is this as good as series one? – No. It was never going to be, because we knew what to expect. It is impossible to repeat that first impact of a show like this, and it is not nearly as raw. However, it feels like an absolutely natural progression for all the characters, and doesn’t feel forced. It is extremely bleak in places, but that is to be expected given the character’s grief, yet it is never maudlin.
It is not the Office. It is not Derek. If you are expecting Gervais to keep repeating himself you will be sorely disappointed. This is a lovely follow up to what was a beautiful series to begin with. To call this a black comedy sounds macabre. The laughter is awkward laughter, because we can all relate to laughing rather than confronting that moment we can’t deal with.
I would wager that no matter what I say about this, Gervais haters are still gonna hate. And I am not saying it is perfect. But it is deeply moving, and definitely have the tissues to hand –especially for the last two episodes.