By Mollie Campbell
Genre: Dark-Comedy, Drama
Cast: Ricky Gervais, David Bradley, Penelope Wilton, Ashley Jensen, Tom Basden
As someone who has experienced the turmoil that is grief first-hand, on multiple occasions, I am naturally very defensive when it comes to representations of grief in Movies and TV shows, the writers always seem to lack any knowledge whatsoever on the subject, often resulting in some ridiculous lines that they seem to have acquired from the ‘grief handbook’ e.g. the textbook of phrases for people who have never experienced grief, those who stress the formula of the ‘stages of grief’ and tell us to ‘move on’. So I sat down to watch this show, not expecting much and preparing myself for my imminent annoyance, but it never happened. Nothing in all of the 6 episodes struck me as insensitive, offensive or quite frankly just absurd. I enjoyed every second of it.
The show centres on Tony Johnson (Ricky Gervais), and his grief after his wife dies of cancer. We see him in a complete depression, barely surviving; the only real interaction he enjoys is with his dog. He attempts to commit suicide multiple times but the only thing that prevents him from doing so is the responsibility he feels for his dog, who he cares too much about to leave behind. These suicidal feelings cause Tony to become someone who is cynical and rude to everyone, he takes risks and doesn’t care about the consequences because his argument is that if things go wrong, he can always commit suicide. The concept is talked about very heavily, and he is quite frank when he expresses these feelings. It is very accurate when it comes to portraying how other people react, some are incredibly helpful, some do not know how to react and some people compare grief to things that are sad yes, but in no way match the incomprehensible feelings that grief leaves us with, they just don’t understand that death is final. We will never see that loved one again. This show perfectly demonstrates what life is like after you are hit by the grief train, how it changes us as people and how living through another day feels like a chore.
But deep down, we are still there. And as the show goes on, it is clear that in all of this, Tony’s conscience and kindness is still in there somewhere because he slowly starts to realise that whilst it is understandable to be in such pain, it makes you feel worse if you keep causing others to be miserable when they do not deserve it. This is a comical yet touching and honest portrayal of grief, and how people who haven’t suffered through it just do not understand what we are going through. It balances humour incredibly well, nothing is out of place, and it is harsh and brutal but still somewhat light-hearted in certain areas. One of the most memorable lines is something that has been whirring around my brain for years but has only just properly come to light because of how Gervais has written it, it resonated with me so strongly that I had to press pause and just sit quietly for a moment, collecting the words in my mind. When talking about the reality of the afterlife existing, Tony says:
“I know, she’s nowhere, alright. But get this through your head, I’d rather be nowhere with her, than somewhere without her”.
This sums it up for me, not wanting to die, but equally not wanting to live without your loved one. I have never seen this concept so accurately portrayed before, it touched me deeply. I was half-smiling, half-crying, although, it did actually throw me into a bit of a depressed spin the night after I watched it; it took me right back there, not that I ever left. So obviously that’s not really a good thing for me personally but on the other hand, it helped me at the same time, a reassurance that it is ok to feel this level of pain and depression. And that no two people react to grief in the same way, and that is something that is never portrayed that well within the sphere of Film & TV.
It also focuses on the connection we have with animals and how they help some people more than a human ever could. Whether it is because of their selfless and affectionate nature, or their inability to feel the darkness of the world, I don’t know, but I loved that they added this perspective into the show. It is something that means so much to me as I have recently lost my dog, she helped me to survive when I lost my father, I wouldn’t have been able to keep on going if it wasn’t for her. So this storyline resonates with my experiences so deeply, it felt like I was watching some elements of my own life being portrayed on the screen in front of me. I have never seen anything like it, it is clever, unique and above all else, true. It is simply a true depiction of trying to survive throughout the constant cloud of grief, something which is incredibly important and should be focused on a lot more, maybe this is the start of that journey.