QUITE what drew me towards a new comedy about a misanthropic features writer working on a struggling local newspaper is anyone's guess but after a 30 minutes in the company of Tony, the anti-hero star of Ricky Gervais' new vehicle After Life, I'm very glad I did.

Tony (Gervais) it seems had a perfect life. But after his wife Lisa (Kerry Godliman) dies of breast cancer, Tony changes. After contemplating taking his own life, he decides instead to live long enough to punish the world by saying and doing whatever he likes from now on. He thinks it's like a superpower - not caring about himself or anyone else - but it turns out to be tricky when everyone is trying to save the nice guy they used to know.

Turning extreme personal grief into comedic gold is no easy task but anyone who's followed Gervais' career from The Office to Extras, will be aware of the tragedy that lies deep within so many of his characters. We laughed at David Brent and recalled the similar idiots we'd all worked with but it was impossible to hate him and Tony provokes similar feelings, despite behaving like a grade one horror throughout this promising first episode of six.

Watching him eat cold curry from a tin for breakfast while surrounded by empty wine bottles and feeding his dog baked beans, is about as bleak as it gets on a sitcom, but stick around and you'll see Tony insult a schoolboy in the most hilarious and shocking way possible. It's funny but sad, moving and incredibly human all at the same time.

For anyone experienced in the newspaper industry there's plenty to enjoy too. Tony torments his co-workers at The Tambury Gazette, including his nice guy boss (and Lisa's brother) Matt (Tom Basden), and the newspaper's chubby photographer Lenny (Tony Way) with the kind of relentless insults Gervais has made his speciality. "Humanity's a plague," Tony says, introducing himself to the Gazette's cub reporter, Sandy (Mandeep Dhillon). "We're a disgusting, narcissistic, selfish parasite, and the world would be a better place without us." On another occasion he laments his newspaper's output: "It's hard for me to throw myself into my work when my work is often talking to a plumber who's grown a potato that looks like Lionel Richie".

Complex, dark and often laugh-out-loud hilarious, After Life may well be Gervais' best work since The Office.