Films and TV Shows Like After Life by Ricky Gervais: Surviving a global pandemic has not been easy for any of us. Being home-bound for two years has jolted us back to a reality we were happily escaping. There is a collective sense of grief around us, and nobody really knows how to handle it. David Kessler and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross changed the psychological landscape when they introduced the world to the five stages of grief. Grief is a non-linear journey, and sometimes people relapse while navigating their way through these five stages. David Kessler garnered great recognition when he added a sixth stage to the pre-existing theory. Coping with his personal journey of loss, he termed the sixth stage – Meaning. People have a hard time understanding the sudden loss of a loved one, a relationship, or the absence of a core piece of their belonging.

A very intimate approach to grief can be seen in Ricky Gervais’s bittersweet comedy ‘Afterlife’, which takes us on a journey of a bereaved man who copes with his wife’s early demise. Tony, the newly widowed protagonist who works for the local newspaper, loses all hope to be happy ever again. It is a compassionate portrait of an experience that is so dreadful and absurd. Tony drowns in sorrow and contemplates suicide every day. He is so engulfed with this bitter bargain with life that he has next to no energy or motivation to protect anyone else’s sentiments. While the first two seasons are dedicated to his grief and loneliness, the third and possibly the final season is about him finding peace in the small but joyous moments around him.

Today, we’ll be discussing films/tv shows that you might appreciate if you enjoyed Afterlife:

Rudderless (2014)

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William H. Macy’s Rudderless is a brilliant take on Kubler and Kessler’s five stages of grief. Billy Crudup plays the role of a grieving father (Sam Manning) who loses his son, Josh, to a mass shooting. An extremely underrated drama dedicates a bulk of its screen time to Sam’s recovery process. Isolated in a houseboat, away from his high-paying job and the comfort of his own home, he decides to make ends meet by painting houses. Coping with the loss of his son and his marriage, Sam finds some comfort in reconnecting with the one passion his son and he both shared: music. The beauty of this movie lies in nuanced moments where the coping of two parents is shown to be completely antithetical to each other. Macy’s message to the audience translated with absolute flair and sensitivity when he showed how grief looks different for different people and that’s okay.

Sam truly begins his journey of healing when he stumbles upon a young man called Quentin (Anton Yelchin). A reluctant relationship between them slowly blossoms into a beautiful camaraderie. Their mutual affinity towards music brings them closer together almost like a father-son relationship. Their partnership soon turns into a band and we see Sam’s almost childlike fervor help him feel close to his son. Rudderless, a tale ridden with confrontation, withdrawal, and acceptance delivers a poignant climax that reminds us that even in the worst of circumstances, a parent will never stop loving their child.

I Know This Much is True (TV Mini-Series 2020)

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I Know This Much is True is a very personal tribute from the writer/director Derek Cianfrance and Mark Ruffalo, both of whom have lost their siblings. Cianfrance took over this project with the aim of presenting a real and dysfunctional family story that is immersed in deep tragedy and despair. Cianfrance in an interview with Indiewire had said how exhausted he felt with Hollywood’s glorification of ‘perfect families’. He couldn’t relate to these stories and often felt a harrowing sense of detachment after each watch.

Adapted from Wally Lamb’s 1998 novel, the six-part series follows Dominick and Thomas Birdsey (both played by Mark Ruffalo), identical twin brothers who are trying to find a way back to each other in the small town of Connecticut. They have outgrown each other as most siblings do in adulthood. But Dominick tries to look out for his brother when his paranoid schizophrenia starts slipping out of hand. It keeps getting harder and harder for Dominick to reach out to Thomas with crippling institutional bureaucracy while also coping with extremely painful personal losses in his life. I Know This Much is True is a story about the relationships we don’t choose but are bound to in life. It is a hard watch but sometimes facing grief in the eye can lead us to a state of true catharsis and that’s exactly what this show fulfills. 

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Nomadland (2020)

shows like After Life 03 Nomadland

Written and directed by Chloé Zhao, Nomadland is a depiction of the loss and recovery of Fern (played by Frances McDormand) in her Nomadic American life. She is part of a tribe of nomads who lack a state of permanency in their lives as a result of the economic dissolution of the cataclysm of war and upheaval. Bearing the brunt of the Great Recession, these nomads travel around in a camper vans looking for seasonal work at different restaurants and factories. Zhao creates moments of deep empathy and compassion when she gives us a sneak peek at the tedious lives of Amazon prime workers and a conversation between a colleague and Fern, where the tattoo on her arm forms the very nucleus of this story: “Home, is it just a word? Or is it something you carry within you?”

Fern is a headstrong woman, who survived the loss of her husband and a home. She declines to live with her sister reaffirming her belief in fending for herself. Fern wears an oversized denim jacket and is often seen with a weathered face. She doesn’t want anyone to fall back to and she rejoices in her solitary experience. Nomadland is a meandering journey of healing. Like the hostile terrains of the American landscape or the orange hues of sunsets, life is nothing but this odd rollercoaster of emotions. Fern encapsulates the qualities of a survivor, reminding us to never give up. It takes immense strength and resilience to pick up ourselves after a tragedy, but we must keep the faith alive, one way or another.

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Dead To Me (TV Series 2019 – 2022)

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Liz Feldman’s Dead to me is a tragic comedy that stars Christina Applegate as Jen, a real estate agent who lost her husband to a brutal hit-and-run one night. She attends a grief support group run by a local pastor and she listens to death metal in her car to release the rage she’s been feeling at the death of her husband and the lack of clarity on who did it. She finds a friend in Judy Hale, played by Linda Cardellini, who goes to the same support group. They both send each other pictures of their dead partners, drink together, and even have sleepovers.

Dead To Me explores a twisted friendship nurtured in lies, deceit, and betrayal. It is a show about the guilt and fallibility of adults who are expected to be prudent. This show conveys how guilt and grief can be two sides of the same coin with masterful comic relief. As spectators, we see a sisterhood solidify with an unfathomable sense of loyalty. This unspoken pact helps them get through catastrophic events in their lives. This show tells us that there is no traditional way to grieve the loss of a loved one and that each person is entitled to a space in life where they can figure it out for themselves. 

Ruby Sparks (2012)

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Ruby Sparks is a very eccentric story written by Zoe Kazan and directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the dynamic duo who had debuted with the evergreen Little Miss Sunshine. Based on the Greek myth of Pygmalion who falls in love with one of his own creations, Kazan puts her own twist on this telltale romantic fantasy. A young novelist, Calvin Weir-Fields finds himself with writer’s block and is frustrated with his lack of accomplishments. Battling through the feelings of inadequacy and the lack of a support system, his life takes an unprecedented turn when a character from his unfinished book manifests into reality and starts behaving the way he wrote it. Kazan brings Ruby Sparks to life in all her beguiling glory. Calvin can make her do whatever he wants to just by editing his manuscript. 

For the first time in his morbidly monotonous life, he felt like a master; someone who is in control of his fate. The movie is about the abuse of the very figment of Calvin’s imagination. The need for an emotionally available partner is something very universal to all of us. Calvin is no different. We see a very peculiar, almost vile version of him as the movie unravels the mysteries of Calvin and his book. The movie communicates the need to understand boundaries in a relationship. That two people can seek happiness in solitary moments as well in their camaraderie.

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The Adam Project (2022)

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Shawn Levy and Ryan Reynolds generated ‘The Adam Project’ is brilliantly packed with all the fun elements such as time travel, action, and comedy. You dive in thinking it’ll be comic relief or a fun adventure to help escape the hustle of your daily routine, however, it is one of those movies that catches you completely off guard. Adam Reed, played by Ryan Reynolds, is traveling back in time to reverse a catastrophic event involving his wife Laura (Zoe Saldaña). The plan takes a completely different turn when he crashes into his childhood home and meets his younger self (played by Walker Scobell) in the year 2022.

Ryan Reynold’s scintillating humor and brilliantly choreographed action sequences feel extremely original and fresh. This movie makes us marvel at the writer’s take on a comic revisit to Adam’s horrid past. The younger and older version both grieves the loss of a parent. They help each other navigate these emotions of loss, loneliness, and acceptance while also trying to get the older version back home safely. One of the best dialogues in the movie has to be the one where young Adam tells older Adam that “it is easier to be angry than to be sad”. This has to be one of the finest moments in the screenplay which talks about how grief can also manifest as anger and holding on to this anger can inhibit the process of healing. 

Paroma (1985)

This is a slightly unusual entry to this list. Paroma can be looked at as a close Bengali spin-off of Henrik Ibsen’s ‘A Doll’s house’. Set in Calcutta, Paroma is an affluent housewife, married to a workaholic husband. She is grieving the loss of her identity and her independence and the only way she thought she could recuperate from such a loss was by having an illicit affair with a photographer (played by Mukul Sharma). She felt an unequivocal sense of safety in the company of this handsome young man, who walked with his sling bag with a camera inside and a packet of Marlboro cigarettes. Women are often viewed as the nurturers of life. The loving, caring, and dedicated archetype of humanity. They are hardly recognized as individuals, as solitary being absolved of responsibilities. 

Paroma, recovering from a near traumatic experience in her life goes on to take control of her life on her own terms. It is not easy to be a nonconformist, especially in Indian societies where women are doubted for their credibility every step of the way. A lot of credit should go to Aparna Sen, the director of this movie who taught us that it is okay for women to be flawed and vulnerable. It is okay for a woman to be unsure of her life and it is definitely okay for her to seek unconventional ways of reinstating her hold on life.

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Somebody Somewhere (TV Series 2022 -)

Somebody Somewhere is a comedy series with warm, candid moments from Sam’s life (played by Bridget Everett). Sam is a woman in her 40s, who had moved back to her hometown to take care of her ailing sister. The unprecedented demise of her sister leaves her trapped in a loop of loneliness and grief. She is hardly making her ends meet in a morbid job; marking essay papers for a living. Sometimes Sam barely has time to grieve when all her energy goes into managing her absolutely dysfunctional family. This is probably one reason this show felt wildly relatable. We can see how Sam keeps relapsing in the way she dresses, in baggy pants and a faded t-shirt with absolutely no effort to look good or feel good.

Sam finds a friend in a high school acquaintance named Joel, who brings a little sunshine back into her life. Joel is an outlier, he is an older version of a nerdy child who enjoys choir and loves church culture. He is queer and he is a musician.  Their friendship is the purest, most compassionate relationship we have seen on screen in a long time. Joel helps her get back on her feet and reconnect with an old muse just like they did in high school. Sam, a sister, an aunt, a daughter, and a friend eventually opens herself to healing. Somebody Somewhere leaves you with deep empathy and warmth for every sister who is living through the loss of their sibling.

Chungking Express (1994)

Wong Kar Wai has worked extensively on the themes of love, loss, and sadness. Chungking Express is probably one of his underrated films that is a perfect blend of heartbreak and comedy. Wai introduces us to the protagonist Cop 233 (Takeshi Kaneshiro) who is seen collecting canned pineapples with the expiry date of May 1st. This is a huge motif in the film that presents itself as an inside joke. Takeshi is dealing with heartbreak. I think we can all relate to the loss of a loved one, the very core of our support system who suddenly escapes your life.

Ever since the breakup, he has been living in a daze, devoid of the youthful exuberance he felt in the company of his lover, May. In an attempt to forget May, he starts devouring the canned pineapples and tries to bury his worries in a lustful exchange. This lustful encounter with a total stranger goes on to be the biggest lesson in his life. Wai teaches us that sometimes couples don’t last. Sometimes it takes more than love to stay in a relationship. It takes sacrifices and commitment. Sometimes love is not enough and that’s okay.

Related to Shows like After Life: Chungking Express (1994): Men without Women

The Fountain (2006)

Darren Aronofsky’s masterpiece ‘The Fountain’ will remain a captivating watch till the end of time. The Fountain is a story about a 21st-century doctor, Tom Creo (Hugh Jackman), who is obsessed with finding a cure to save his wife Izzi (Rachel Weisz) who is battling a terminal disease. Split into three timelines, the plot explores the life of the following protagonists: Tomas (the conquistador), Tommy (the scientist), and Tom (the spaceman). Aronofsky is known for his symbolism, metaphors, and allegories, The Fountain at its core is no different.

The beauty of the plot lies in the recurrence of the tree of life, the very symbol of the living, dead, and reincarnated. Whether it is the tree of life or the Xibalba (the dying star), Aronofsky uses these motifs to let us into the psyche of the protagonist. With the use of motifs and the ascent of color from dark to light, Aronofsky tries to extend an almost sensory experience to his spectators. His movies are more than just storytelling, he invites us into the physicality of cinema itself. The director’s take on the very concept of mortality engages the audience in a very disconcerting, almost surreal experience of contemplating death and rebirth. The Fountain is a grieving world of fantasy and above all a world of coming to terms with the death and the renewal of life from decay.

After Life Links: IMDb, Wikipedia

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