It has to be said that like (I’m sure) many other viewers, Ricky Gervais has forced me into a love-hate relationship with his work. He’s a genuinely funny chap. The quality of The Office from top to bottom should not be forgotten as a turning point in British television, and for all its failings Extras ended with one of the most satisfying emotional pay-offs from any sit-com of my acquaintance. You know where this is going.
He’s had a mixed experience in the showbiz world in the USA, and while making fun of just about everyone at the Golden Globes was pretty neat, it was a one-off and a bit of a soft target. So Life’s Too Short should be where he is most comfortable. It should be pointed out that Stephen Merchant is given a free pass through all of this by dint of his work on Portal 2.
The show so far has followed the actor Warwick Davis playing the character Warwick Davis, a struggling actor who runs a dwarf-specialist acting agency that has presumably seen better days. He starred in Willow and was an Ewok in Return of the Jedi, and he is somehow friends with the obviously better-respected and successful Merchant and Gervais. After an opening skit where he asks a passer-by to buzz him into the office because he cannot reach the intercom, the matter of how he keeps getting in is not again addressed.
This week’s guest star is Helena Bonham Carter, whose name and (fake) upcoming film with Tim Burton was dropped last week by Johnny Depp, and I’m kinda disappointed her scene wasn’t on the set of that film. In any case, Davis plays a stand-in for a child actor, who can only be on set for a fixed number of hours per day. The skit involves Davis, who is freaking Carter out due to his dwarfism, being replaced by a series of alternatives, including a bin with a face painted on, and a crew member named Nobby. It is much funnier on paper, and Carter doesn’t seem as on board with the conceit as Depp or Neeson in episode one, though that may well be down to the material.
The rest of the episode has Davis shoot some performance reels for his clients, which feels a bit like the writing team sat round a table and thought about what it would be funny to get dwarves to do. There’s Dwarf Passion of the Christ, Dwarf Brokeback Mountain, Dwarf Gladiator. The cold open of the show has one actor say ‘it’s not what I’ve dreamed of’ before being used by some men in a pub as a human bowling ball. Another plot line features a dwarf anti-defamation league being interviewed by the BBC about the negative and condescending perception of little people. Which side does the show fall down on? That it’s still rather unclear is worrying. Incidentally, the dwarf gladiator later exposes himself in a police station, vomits and then escapes on a girl’s tricycle, then falls over.
As for Gervais and Merchant, it increasingly feels like they’re keeping all the best lines for themselves. How much further they can take the sitting behind a desk and making fun of the famous is questionable.
I dearly want this show to be funny. I want Gervais to change comedy the way he once did. The Office changed the way sit-coms were made, it opened up a world of possibilities. Life’s Too Short feels hastily thrown together in a way the Gervais of 2001 would not have dreamed. Gosh, I hope next week is more than the sum of its parts.
Does anyone wildly disgree with me? I really want to hear what I’m missing in Life’s Too Short.