Having so far loved everything that Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant have flashed at me in their freak-show of the damned: the little fat man, the simian bald man, and Barry from Eastenders; I was almost certain that I was going to enjoy Life’s Too Short, an aptly named sitcom/mockumentary that follows Britain’s ‘Go To Dwarf’, Warwick Davis. Just as in other roaringly successful series of the last few years (The Trip, Extras, and Curb Your Enthusiasm to name three), the show’s protagonist plays an exaggerated version of themselves. It starts out reasonably well – we are introduced to Warwick, but then there is a dawning realisation. The feeling is similar to the one when glancing at a photo of a dwarf standing alone without any average height people to use as perspective – something is amiss, but you’re not quite sure what.
The show has a typically great cast with Ricky and Steve dropping in for a cameo, and Davis is undoubtedly a very funny actor. The format, as proven by Larry David et al. is potentially golden. There’s even a blacked up, lesbian dwarf and her friend singing Ebony and Ivory. And yet. Despite what is an undeniably clever script, and a hilariously intense cameo from the forgotten Ronny – Liam Neeson – and one from a predatory Johnny Depp in the next episode, something is flat.
I couldn’t help but feel a little bit cheated by Life’s Too Short because, just like a comedic equivalent of Peter Kay’s new stand-up, I felt like I’d seen it all before. And I have. Davis, just like Pilkington and Barry before him gets the same knowingly patronising-yet-hopefully-comedic treatment. It’s not just the fat child and his tall friend making fun of the misfit in the playground that stinks of regurgitation. What’s missing is any real sense of originality. Davis is fed David Brent’s cut lines, and exposed to Andy Millman’s superiors – it’s not, as Gervais describes it, the ‘third in our sitcom trilogy’, it’s just a cobbling together of what the duo have formerly produced. It’s lazy. From the dwarf-not-reaching-the-buzzer gag, and the incompetent accountant, to the undeserving pseudo-celebrity comparing their plight to a historical great like MLK, it’s all a little too familiar. Familiarity can be a good thing – like that sinking feeling when Larry David shrugs and grimaces for the two hundredth time, but this isn’t that.
It seems that, after abusing Hollywood, and reclaiming the word ‘mong’, Ricky Gervais has reached the boundaries of what can be comedy, and so is reinventing David Brent, but making him sympathetic because he’s a dwarf with a small man complex.
I’m not just another wannabe critic taking the lazy route of faux world weary criticism – I really wanted to like Life’s Too Short, and it will probably be a rousing success, particularly in the US where they still have the Gervais bug (Britain shook it off sometime after his FAME tour). Just as Coldplay’s X&Y did well because of, rather than regardless of, the success of the first two albums, so will Life’s Too Short. It’s an unfortunate side-effect of supply and demand TV production that ruined Little Britain (which, originally, was quite funny) and US TV seems riddled with.
I really hope it gets better, but I don’t think it will.