Some of my fellow Christians criticize me for watching “secular” television shows and movies that contain sex, violence, profanity, etc. and worst of all, the “wrong message”. The wrong message being anything against God, Christianity or The Church. Granted some shows have no redeeming qualities and are nothing but blood and guts, boobs and butts, f-bombs and worse. If I see one going that way, I turn it off. I’m just not interested and it does one no good to watch or listen to that mess.
But there are shows that transcend their irreligious, dark side of this world messaging. They tell stories about the human condition in ways that move me to be even more thankful for the faith God has given me and to be even more committed to becoming the person He wants me to be.
One such show is on Netflix. “After Life” just wrapped up its third and final season. The creator and writer of “After Life” is Ricky Gervais, an award-winning English comedian. Frankly, I was never a Ricky Gervais fan. Watching him host the Golden Globe awards I found him unnecessarily crude, mean and vulgar. And his stand-up routines are even worse. I could not imagine what he might do with a television series.
But I gave “After Life” a shot. And almost turned it off during the first episode of season one. Gervais appeared to simply be playing his usual nasty, despicable self. But there was a compelling back story to the show and an interesting supporting cast. Gervais’ character, Tony, is a would-be journalist working for a struggling small-town newspaper. He has lost his wife to cancer. Now his life consists of watching old videos of his lovely, charming wife while petting his dog and getting drunk. His wife was truly the love of his life, his best friend and his reason for living. After losing her, he is just wanting and waiting to die, being miserable and making everyone around him miserable. Sounds like an uplifting show, right?
Tony’s nihilism mixed with biting humor and sarcasm is at times funny, brutally honest and consistently dark. Most of the other characters are struggling, anxious or clueless; but also interesting. A few attempt to express some vague message of hope in the hereafter and a murky faith in some higher power. Without being too much of a spoiler, the series ends on what is meant to be a happier note. Essentially the message is that this life is all there is, be nice and kind to others, do what you can to make things better and then leave the stage for the next actor. There is a hint that your loved ones may be waiting for you on the other side or perhaps it’s just a memory that also disappears when you do.
After Life is a genuinely well-done series. The writing is exceptional, the acting spot-on and the production top notch all around. The music is perfect, always fitting and tugs at your emotions. However, “After Life” left me with a deep sense of sadness. Yes, I realize it was just a television show and it was fiction. But it looked a lot like modern life for so many people. Those who search for the big answers to the big questions but fail to look beyond this world. So many people believe only in what they can experience or what makes sense to them. They may hope there is more, but all their efforts go toward finding happiness in the here and now, until they either give up or die trying to find it.
As I said, shows like this make me even more thankful for God’s grace. Grace that brought me to the faith and sustains me. Shows like this also give me perspective and understanding in my relationships with those who do not believe in an afterlife or anything else other than what exists in the material world. It challenges me to live in such a way that others may seek to know what I believe and why I believe it. To be a witness, to give testimony to the truth not only in word but also in deed.
faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
1 Corinthians 15: 16-19