Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 8, 2013)
For his first live-action TV series since the much-loved Extras went off the air in 2007, Ricky Gervais returned with 2011’s Life’s Too Short. While Gervais himself played the lead in Extras and The Office, here he takes a supporting role and lets the show concentrate on actor Warwick Davis.
This “documentary” lets us see life through the eyes of a diminutive performer/talent agent – with the usual warped Gervais twist. This DVD set gives us all seven of Season One’s episodes. The plot synopses come straight from the DVD menus.
Episode 1: “Warwick interviews a new assistant and drops by unannounced to see old pals Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, but Liam Neeson already has an appointment to pitch himself as a serious actor who is serious about breaking into comedy.”
While E1 doesn’t allow Too Short to leap off the screen ala Extras, it provides a more than competent launch for the series. I don’t know how much it’ll captivate us with Davis as a lead, though, as he’s not the strongest link here.
Without question, the sequence with Neeson offers the best few minutes – and makes us wish that the series would concentrate on Gervais/Merchant instead of Davis. Still, the rest of the show offers entertainment, so I’m hopeful it’ll develop well.
Episode 2: “After shilling himself at a sci-fi convention, Warwick agrees to be the special guest at a Star Wars-themed wedding. His fortunes appear to rise when Johnny Depp hires him to help research a new movie role, but Johnny ends up having a bone to pick with Ricky.”
Once again, the series only really comes to life when it includes Gervais and Merchant. The Depp/Davis sequences don’t work; Depp plays himself in Hunter Thompson mode, and his interactions with Davis become dopey. However, when Depp meets with Gervais – and roasts him in response to the way Gervais trashed The Tourist at the Golden Globes – the show sparkles. As with E1, the non-Gervais moments are usually decent, but they’re not the best elements.
Episode 3: “After complaints that he takes all the best roles for himself, Warwick creates the show reels for his talent-agency clients and launches a website to strum up business. Meanwhile, Warwick sidles himself into a news interview with the chairman of the Society of People of Short Stature, and takes on a role opposite Helena Bonham Carter.”
While Davis may play an exaggerated version of himself, he speaks with the voice of Gervais. It’s shockingly easy to imagine Gervais uttering Davis’s lines – well, without all the dwarf jokes included, of course.
Which creates a hole in the center of the series. Davis is a more than competent comedic actor – he’s better than expected, really – but he’s no Gervais, and the fact that so much of the material sounds like “Gervais Speak” means that we end up distracted. Even Carter’s willingness to lampoon herself Extras-style fails to deliver the goods.
Episode 4: “Warwick’s attempt to make a big impression on a real estate agent backfires. In the midst of messy divorce negotiations, which are not helped by being represented by his accountant, Warwick asks Ricky and Stephen for personal advice during an awkward video chat with Steve Carell. Meanwhile, Warwick seeks election as the chairman of the Society of People of Short Stature.”
Am I the only one who’d like the series more if it focused less on short jokes? Yeah, I know that this is part of the concept, as it’s essentially a dwarf making fun of himself, but it still gets tiresome after a while; too many of the gags feel like they’re laughing at little people and not with them. I think the program would be more compelling if it just stayed with humor about an egotistical actor, not with humor about an egotistical pint-sized actor. While that would be less novel, it’d also be less gratuitous.
Episode 5: “Warwick looks for guidance from his spiritual advisor/life coach Bryan, and while exploring different faiths meets with a Catholic priest and a Scientologist. Following a visit to a dating agency (where he met his ex-wife), Warwick embarks on a quest to find a new partner.”
Though it still indulges in some dwarf-mockery, E5 shows a better than usual balance. It actually allows Warwick to stand up for himself and his people in a way that’s borderline touching, a rarity in this generally snarky/cynical series. I still don’t think it’s the funniest of shows, but at least it’s more appealing.
Episode 6: “Warwick invites his celebrity connections to a housewarming party in his new apartment in hopes of impressing a potential girlfriend named Amy, as well as his ex-wife. When only a few of the celebs accept, Warwick ends up hiring model/TV personality Cat Deeley to attend.”
The introduction of Amy has offered a change in the series’ tone, as it’s gone from making Warwick a standard buffoon to turning him into a more tragic figure. Sure, his wounds are all self-inflicted, but he still comes across as sad, so we slowly develop affection for him. Add to that less of a focus on cheap short jokes and matters are looking up here.
Episode 7: “In the season finale, Warwick attends a charity event in the hope of hanging out with celebrities. However, in trying to impress the rock icon Sting, Warwick ends up spending more than he can afford. Meanwhile, Warwick seeks to settle his divorce proceedings and make amends with Amy.”
E7 ends the season on a somewhat flat note. It violates one prime Gervais rule: it involves a celebrity but doesn’t allow the celebrity to make fun of him/herself. Granted, I guess you could call Sting’s appearance here slightly self-mocking in that he comes across as a do-gooder prat, but he doesn’t get laughs.
Well, at least E7 continues the trend of shows without a heavy focus on easy short jokes, and it develops the series’ general narrative. As usual, the only real comedy emerges from Gervais/Merchant, so don’t expect much comedy elsewhere. Overall, this becomes a lackluster finale.