Thursday, February 16, 2012

Life's Too Short [television review]

Debuted on the BBC in November 2011; premieres on HBO and HBO Canada on February 19th
Life's Too Short presents a fairly daunting challenge for its stars, creators, writers, directors, and producers Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais: to follow in the footsteps of their previous television creations The Office (the original version) and Extras, considered some of the best comedic television made in the last ten years. Their latest production, unfortunately, falls well short of the high-calibre level those series reached, revealing itself to be dreadfully inconsistent in its ability to generate laughs and leaving the distinct whiff of a surprisingly half-assed effort from the duo, who appear to have given us a show that's derivative of themselves. The seven episode series has already been renewed for a second season, tentatively scheduled to air in the spring of 2013. Gervais and Merchant's modus operandi in the past has been to smartly limit their fictional TV work to life spans of just two seasons and a one-off special, so expect the same with Life's Too Short.
The show's premise finds dwarf actor Warwick Davis (best known for his roles in films such as Return Of The Jedi, Willow, and the campy Leprechaun series) playing the owner of a dwarf talent agency who's clinging to the remnants of the minor celebrity he's accrued, while also navigating his way through a divorce that's blindsided him. His day-to-day activities are also being constantly filmed by a documentary crew - sound familiar? Davis plays a broadly drawn fictional version of himself, with Gervais and Merchant writing the character as a narcissistic, bumbling idiot who is so out of touch with his surrounding world that the viewer can't help but feel sympathy for him. Again, sound familiar? Davis does a fine enough job with the role, which requires some frequent physical comedy and a good sportsmanship attitude towards the steady serving of "short" jokes, but it's basically a vertically challenged rehash of Gervais' hapless David Brent Office character. There's some decent cameos throughout the series from celebs playing themselves, including Liam Neeson, Helena Bonham Carter, Sting (gamely sending up his philanthropic reputation), Steve Carrell, the bald duo from Right Said Fred (quite funny), and Johnny Depp. Depp is a bit of inspired casting, considering how mercilessly Gervais ridiculed his film The Tourist while hosting the 2011 Golden Globe Awards, with Depp in attendance. Gervais and Merchant pop up from time to time playing themselves as well, although their appearances feel forced and merely a thinly veiled excuse to get the pair and some of the aforementioned celebs onscreen as a means of increasing viewer appeal. Other secondary characters, such as Rosamund Hanson as Davis' vacant assistant and Steve Brody as Davis' giggle-prone accountant, fail to make much of an impression, comically or otherwise.
Life's Too Short is partially a victim of Gervais and Merchant's previous TV successes, both in terms of how excellent their other shows were (thereby raising the bar) and also by instantly inviting comparisons to The Office with its similar tone and format. The freshness of the single-camera mock documentary concept has now passed its expiry date and the punch once delivered by a put-upon actor looking straight into the camera for comedic effect just isn't there for me anymore. It's one reason I bailed on the American remake of The Office sometime during season three and one of the reasons I've taken so long to warm up to NBC's Parks And Recreation. The latter show has a great cast and excellent writing, but its tired mockumentary format (featuring Adam Scott's character staring into that camera several times over the course of most shows) has made it a challenge to embrace.
It isn't like golden boys Gervais and Merchant are completely incapable of turning out forgettable work - one only has to sample Cemetery Junction, their stinker feature film from 2010. But for the most part, the talented partners are reliably funny, whether it's their immensely popular podcast and audio book series (so good I listened to them virtually every day for about four years straight), or their other stellar TV work on the animated Ricky Gervais Show (read my review here) and the hilarious An Idiot Abroad travel series, starring Karl Pilkington. Skip Life's Too Short and head to any of those.
Rating: D-

1 comment:

  1. I've seen the entire series since I live in the UK and must agree this one has been a big step down for Ricky and Steve.


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