“After Life”: If You’re Wondering About That Therapist…

I recently finished both seasons of the British TV series After Life, a dramedy conceived by and starring Ricky Gervais. A  review excerpt from Jyotsna Basotia, meaww.com, feels like an apt setup:

Ricky Gervais has hit the right chord with his latest show on Netflix, ‘After Life’, which is packed with a pinch of sarcasm and dollops of humor. The series revolves around Tony Johnson, who is depressed after his wife’s death. Soon after he loses the love of his life, he adopts a devil-may-care attitude and calls it his ‘superpower’. He decides to do what he wants and say what he feels with the final plan to kill himself when he gets tired of it all.

Warning: this post is particularly for those who are interested in major spoilers.

Therapy scenes are plentiful in both seasons of After Life. In Season One Tony knows the psychiatrist (played by Paul Kaye) is totally insult-worthy but hangs in there anyway, painfully too long. It’s such a relief when Tony eventually decides to fire him. Indeed, by the end of the first season, our protagonist “finally finds out that even simple conversations with Anne, an older widow, and Emma, his father’s forgiving nurse, have better healing powers than his traumatic sessions with the therapist.”

But then in Season Two it’s another main character who regularly meets with this shrink! The writer at What Culture makes a sharp observation:

As odious and offensive as Tony’s psychiatrist was last season, there could be an argument made for his existence because at least he served a purpose. The egotistical narcissist was a sounding board for Tony, yes, as the grieving man could tell him how he was feeling about the world, why he hated people and, in the process, ultimately realise that the man sitting in the chair opposite him was one of those people.

The funniest thing about the character was Tony’s bewildered reactions to the dreadful stuff he spouted, so the mind really does boggle as to why he needed to return for the second offering when Tony had left him behind.

This time, he’s paired off with Tony’s brother-in-law Matt and the result is far less appealing, resulting in boring monologues with offensive commentary that might (at a stretch) have been funny in the first episode. We didn’t need the five that followed.

So, what exactly are this psychiatrist’s transgressions? Dan Peeke, Screen Rant, lists ten areas of fault, spanning both seasons. They include the following:

  • not paying attention
  • describing “a brutal description of exactly what he would do to Hitler if he had the chance”
  • telling Tony “just stop feeling sad” and Matt (dealing with marital separation) “don’t worry about it”
  • prescribing “sleeping around” to help the grief process
  • no apology or remorse when he gets the axe from Tony
  • open and crude obsession with sex
  • breaking confidentiality

Basotia (meaww.com) also takes on the “clumsy and dim-witted” shrink in her piece titled “Paul Kaye may be funny, but here’s why he’s everything Tony’s therapist should NOT be.”

Furthermore, critic Matt Roush, TV Insider, labels this unappealing guy “the world’s most inappropriately vulgar psychiatrist,” and Allison Shoemaker, Rogerebert.com, nails it when she says he’s “one of the worst mental health professionals in television history.”

Other than After Life‘s off-the-charts caricature of the therapist from hell? Actually, this poignant series is well worth seeing. (And earns an 8.4 on IMDB.)

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