Series premiere Friday on Netflix.
Ricky Gervais plays a jerk on his new series.
Granted, that’s news right up there with snow in winter and traffic on Storrow Drive.
Some things are just a given. On such series as the original, British version of “The Office” and “Extras,” Gervais mastered the craft of the self-important clod. (OK, we’re not going to ever talk about “Derek,” in which he gave the world, umm, a challenged individual.)
But on the dramedy “After Life” (streaming Friday on Netflix), creator, writer, director and executive producer Gervais hands his alter ego an actual reason for being such a creep: Tony’s (Gervais) beloved wife, Lisa (Kerry Godliman, “Derek”), died of breast cancer.
“I guess a good day is when I don’t go around wanting to shoot random strangers in the face and then turn the gun on myself,” he tells his shrink, who is surely in the running for worst therapist on any continent.
In his grief, Tony decides he owes the world nothing and vows to say or do anything he wants. He decides this is his superpower, for some reason. (His ever-present costume: Simon Cowell drag — jeans and a ratty V-neck T-shirt that probably cost 49 cents.)
Tony, perhaps alas for us, is surrounded by a practical squad of people who fight to keep him from the dark side. Chief among them is his brother-in-law Matt (Tom Basden, “David Brent: Life on the Road”), who is also his boss at a free weekly newspaper for their small local town. The newsroom looks like a real newsroom as much as Somerville resembles Rome.
Tony regularly humiliates his “human stress ball,” nice guy photographer Lenny (Tony Way), and tries to discourage new hire Sandy (Mandeep Dhillon) from the business. Granted, the work isn’t glamorous — Tony’s writing assignments range from a water stain that resembles actor Kenneth Branagh to a baby who looks like Hitler.
Tony regularly drops into a care facility to visit his father (David Bradley, “Game of Thrones”), lost in the fog of dementia. The nurse (Ashley Jensen, “Extras”), who looks after him, gets under Tony’s skin in ways he doesn’t expect.
“After Life” plays like an odd vanity project, and in watching all six episodes, I was most reminded of, of all things, “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.” Remember how Pee-wee had to check in with all his playhouse pals, from Chairy to the King of Cartoons, for a scene in every episode?
“After Life” plays the same way, with each episode checking off the same bits, in some order: Tony bickering with his postman, dealing with his awful shrink, visiting his father, stopping in the newsroom, going to the cemetery to chat with a kindly widow (Penelope Wilton, “Downton Abbey”) and, of course, watching a video of his beloved wife. This must have helped in the filming of the series. You can imagine, say, all the scenes with the widow filmed in a single day. Creatively, it makes for a static experience.
You can build a drinking game with the number of people who tell Tony how wonderful he really is. Please don’t. You’ll be in an alcohol-induced coma halfway through the six-episode run.
After all your suffering, “After Life” ends up exactly where you’d expect it to. There are no heavenly rewards here.