Stuart Bak
11/11/2011 11:16 | By Stuart Bak, columnist, MSN TV

Review: Life's Too Short

Reviewed: Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant return to BBC2 with a 'hilarious' new mockumentary about Warwick Davis.

Warwick Davis and Ricky Gervais (© BBC)

Warwick Davis and Ricky Gervais

Life's Too Short

Summary: Just a few weeks ago, Ricky Gervais incurred the wrath of many when he defended his use of the term "mong" on Twitter, claiming that it is "no longer a derogatory term."

Others begged to differ and, in the face of growing criticism from the media and - more importantly - the mother of two kids with severe autism, the telly mogul reluctantly backed down.

A single glib apology later (for damage limitation purposes, no doubt), and he's back in the limelight with a new show which - yup, you guessed it - gets its giggles from the conceit that those less fortunate than Gervais are, y'know, there for everyone else's entertainment.

Bear that in mind as you watch Life's Too Short - a mockumentary detailing the trials and tribulations of actor (and dwarf) Warwick Davis.

The UK's self-described "go-to dwarf," Warwick (the character) runs a struggling acting agency called Dwarves for Hire.

He's in the middle of a divorce; owes the Inland Revenue £250,000 in unpaid taxes; and can't secure any work for his diminutive clients. His only hope for turning things around lies with the dream team of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant.

"People are straight away thinking it's going to be a cruel comedy," Gervais told The Guardian recently." "It's their prejudice. People confuse the subject of a joke with the target of a joke."

Perhaps, though, the only thing that really matters is whether Life's Too Short is actually funny (clue: it isn't).

Highlights: An inspired cameo from Liam Neeson ("I've contracted AIDS") was the single, undisputed highlight of the entire half-hour show.

Lowlights: The fact that so many of Gervais' verbal tics and comedy mannerisms have so clearly rubbed off on Warwick.

Full review:

It doesn't take long to get the measure (no pun intended) of Warwick Davis's character in Life's Too Short. To all intents and purposes, he's a mini David Brent.

"To all intents and purposes, he's a mini David Brent"

He's adopted every single one of Brent's mannerisms - from the innocent glance to camera every time he drops an off-colour gag to the facial contortions and "not trues" (again to camera) whenever someone is telling tales about him (for example, his estranged wife).

He even talks about "Warwick" in the third person. But even the worst aspects of David Brent had a certain charm. This pale imitation is vain, delusional and entirely unselfconscious.

The supporting cast isn't much better, but given what they have to work with, I'm not surprised.

Barry from EastEnders

"A character so flimsily one-dimensional..."

Rosamund Hanson plays Warwick's sarky, gum-chewing PA Cheryl. A character so flimsily one-dimensional, she'd be outshone by a piece of paper with a crude representation of a human face crayoned across it.

She's ill-thought-out, boring, and frankly not very funny; the kind of character you might expect to find playing second fiddle to Linda Robson in a sitcom circa 1994.

Don't blame Ms Hanson though (she was the brilliant "Smell" in This Is England); blame the poor writing.

Then there's Eric (Steve Brody), Warwick's accountant, whose singular USP is that he's completely useless at his job. It's lazy humour even Hale and Pace would've balked at in the 1980s.

"Barry from EastEnders" (Shaun Williamson) is present too. Talk about flogging a dead horse! Then, of course, there's Gervais and Merchant themselves.

The Ricky Gervais show

"It's about Ricky Gervais."

It rapidly becomes apparent that Life's Too Short is not really about the life of a showbiz dwarf after all. It's about Ricky Gervais.

Most of the action takes place in his office; there he sits, dropping names, making wheelchair gags and pulling his "I'm cracking up" face - you know the one.

As usual, Stephen Merchant gets thrown a few lame gags, but mostly sits there staring down the camera like he's trying to figure out if the Barclay's squirrel is "relevant" or not.

Highlights were few and far between in the opening episode of Life's Too Short. It's fair to say that Liam Neeson earned the first real laugh - a full 20 minutes into the 30-minute running time - with his hilariously dour attempts at improvisational comedy.

The series is set to feature many more of Gervais' back-slapping showbiz pals, including Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham-Carter, Sting, Cat Deeley and, erm, Les Dennis.

Like all the good bits of Extras then, but with added dwarf jokes. Original comedy my eye.

Short on laughs

The lowlights were legion. Take your pick from the visual dwarf gags (Warwick couldn't reach the entry buzzer at Gervais' offices) or the scene in which a blacked-up dwarf sings Ebony and Ivory in Warwick's office.

"The lowlights were legion"

Even David Walliams and Matt Lucas haven't sunk this low (yet).

Yes, comedy is subjective. Yes, it often treads a fine line with regard to taste. But Ricky Gervais' humour is becoming a little too predictable and that's my main gripe.

I knew Warwick would fall out of his Range Rover; I knew his asking for help would lead to added humiliation; I knew Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais would belittle Warwick - heck, I could've written this.

A look at the extremely mixed reviews suggests it will be far more interesting reading about Life's Too Short than watching it.

Ultimately, it's neither here nor there whether Warwick is the "subject" or the "target" of this barbed humour. Because, whatever way you look at it, Life's Too Short about as funny as finding a My Family complete box-set in your Christmas stocking. And half as original.

  • Rating: Life's too short to waste your time watching Ricky Gervais' dire new BBC2 comedy. Two Warwick-sized pouffes out of five.

    Sofa grade

Life's Too Short, BBC2 at 9.30pm: full transmission times here

TV quotes of the week

"We had a wheelchair one [in The Office]: same ballpark." - Same ballpark and same tired old off-colour jokes from Ricky Gervais in Life's Too Short.

"I make lists all the time." - Liam Neeson explains how he persuaded Stephen Spielberg to cast him as Oskar Schindler.

"I've contracted AIDS from an African prostitute... I'm riddled with it." - Liam Neeson: what the improve comedy world has been waiting for.

"I've never seen a black man fired from a cannon." - Warwick compares dwarfism to slavery. Hilarious, I'm sure.

"Just because you're restricted in height doesn't mean you're restricted in talent." - In this show, Warwick, yes it does.

The views in this article are those of the author alone and not of MSN or Microsoft

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