Saturday, 19 November 2011

TV Review | Life's Too Short (Series 1, Episodes 1 and 2)

Life's Too Short is the latest television comedy offering from contemporary giants of the genre, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. Described by Gervais as the third in their TV sitcom trilogy (The Office and Extras being the first and second parts respectively), Life's Too Short shows promise in the first two episodes, but there is also the feeling that maybe we've seen this all before.

The series is a mockumentary following dwarf actor Warwick Davis (probably best known most recently for playing Professor Flitwick in the Harry Potter films) as he goes about his "showbiz" life as a dwarf actor as well as running his own dwarf talent agency. Davis plays a twisted version of himself, coming across as arrogant and deluded as to how famous and successful he is. The style of comedy is typical Gervais and Merchant, playing up the uncomfortable scenarios to the point where you can barely continue watching. Davis is clearly up for pretty much anything, with highlights of the first two episodes including an excruciating failed interview with a local news anchor who at one point gets Davis to stand on a chair to emphasise his dwarfism, and Davis donning something truly humiliating (I won't say what to avoid spoilers) as a makeshift Ewok costume when attending a Star Wars themed wedding. Davis' likability and talent as an actor will no doubt be key to the series' inevitable success.

Much like he did in Extras, Gervais also uses his Hollywood connections to bring in some serious star power, which essentially provide the best scenes of each of the first two episodes. Liam Neeson cameos in the first episode to great effect, approaching Gervais and Merchant (playing themselves) about a change of direction in his career; it is Johnny Depp's performance in episode 2 that is currently the one to beat, initially meeting with Davis to gain advice on how to play a leprechaun, which ends up in a confrontation with Gervais over his comments at the Golden Globes.

However, Life's Too Short, whilst undoubtedly funny, is almost unashamedly unoriginal. Davis' lines could often be lifted directly from David Brent ten years ago, and even his delivery sometimes feels as though he's basically doing an impersonation of Gervais. And whilst the celebrity cameos so far have worked, you can't help but feel the idea has been almost directly lifted from Extras. The format is essentially a cross between The Office, Extras and Curb Your Enthusiasm (a show of which Gervais is openly a huge fan) and also borrows quite heavily from I'm Alan Partridge. Whilst it's true that Gervais and Merchant obviously know what they're doing with this style, it's also a shame that Life's Too Short doesn't yet feel like its own entity, more the bastard lovechild of several successful previous sitcoms.

The hardest part to swallow so far, however, is Gervais and Merchant's portrayal of themselves. Whilst we've seen both play warped versions of themselves previously, here it almost feels like they're no longer acting. The duo sit in a large and finely decorated office adorned with memorabilia from both their successes together and Gervais' solo efforts. I genuinely found some of the scenes involving Gervais and Merchant quite cringeworthy in an unpleasant way - it feels as though the two of them (Gervais in particular) have gone too far up one particular part of their anatomy. Five years ago it was amusing; now it just feels genuinely narcissistic.

I'll continue to watch Life's Too Short, as despite its shortcomings (no pun intended) it undoubtedly has promise as the first two episodes had several genuinely funny moments. At the moment I can't see it being as revered as Gervais and Merchant's first two comedy series, but that's not to say it isn't a worthwhile watch. In fact, creating a series that is merely very good rather than universally acclaimed might just be what's needed to knock the writers back down to earth, or at least a little closer to it.

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