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If “self-deprecating comedy” were a brand, the face of Ricky Gervais would be pasted all over it. Despite his fairly dismal ventures into filmmaking, Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s The Office and Extras are easily two of the funniest sitcoms to ever exist, and I’m fine with my favoritism showing. But when it comes to Life’s Too Short, the comedy just doesn’t measure up, because we’ve seen this already.
For this faux documentary, Warwick Davis stars as a delightfully pathetic version of himself as both a struggling actor as well as a disappointing talent agent for little people. His life is essentially one big billboard of his former successes, even if no one seems to know anything about Willow, nor be able to distinguish his Ewok character from a teddy bear. His wife Sue (Jo Enright) is divorcing him and dating her legal counsel. He forces himself to rely on Ricky and Steve, also playing themselves, in both a professional and a friendly manner, due to his not having a regular job or regular friends or anything. He hires a daft assistant Cheryl (Rosamund Hanson), who fits the bill for worst employee ever. And when he’s not lying about a wonderful lovelife, he’s ruining his real one, which includes a brief relationship with fellow dwarf Amy (Kiruna Stamell).
It’d be one thing if Davis’ life was held under a microscope of realism, but the prominence of movie stars and entertainment talk just make it feel like an Extras rip off, right down to the actual over-the-top celebrity cameos. Liam Neeson wants to break into comedy, but can’t convincingly pull off improvisation to save his life (from AIDS, as this hilarious little scene shows us). Johnny Depp uses Davis as research for a part, but it deflates once Depp and Gervais get into a manly cat fight over jokes made at the Golden Globes. Davis spends too much money at a charity auction trying to impress Sting, who is eager to make him regret it. Other celebs include Right Said Fred, Shaun Williamson, Lee Dennis and a computer screen cameo from Steve Carrell. Cat Neeley plays Davis’ hired date, and Helena Bonham Carter also appears, acting in a movie that Davis cons his way onto.
When removed from the context of Ricky Gervais’ career, it really is an amusing show, somehow grounded by the large performances of Warwick Davis, who remains likeable even as his character – sometimes dressed as an Ewod - unwittingly damages the lives of those around him, especially those with his intentions at heart. And everyone else plays a fair game, Stamell in particular. But beyond a humor sensibility skewed towards dwarf jokes, not a single thing about the show is fresh or original. Even seeing Merchant behind a desk while Williamson runs errands is taken directly from Extras, with barely any effort to hide it. I’d like to watch the after-effects of Davis’ attempts at a love life without knowing that it’ll all be ruined by his pompous asinine behavior. It’s like watching Moe, Larry and Curly walking into a pie-eating contest. It’s still funny, but with very little surprise pulling out extra laughs.
At only seven episodes, though, the non-freshness doesn’t ever get old or stale, like watching a better show’s reruns. I can say one joke, or rather a piece of set design, was my single favorite thing about the show. At one point, Davis moves into a different apartment, and after a quick mishap with a peephole, he has to install a small stairway up the back of the door to allow him to see through the hole, and it brought me instant smiles anytime someone knocked on the door, and I awaited his quick climb before yelling, “Push!” to the person on the other side. It’s inspired humor, regardless of its political correctness.
Perhaps because the episodes feel so familiar to begin with, they actually all have high re-watch value, so this DVD set is well worth the purchase. “The Making of Life’s Too Short is nearly a half-hour of Gervais, Merchant, and Davis waxing goofy, spiced up with outtakes from Liam Neeson and Sting denying his interest in appearing on the show with a rousing “fuck off.” Davis’ slapstick talents are showcased, as are his abilities to get into incredibly cramped situations.
The ten minutes of deleted scenes and the outtakes are par for the Ricky Gervais DVD course. They’re all worth watching, and they both feature Gervais looking slightly uncomfortable to be himself. Davis and Cheryl’s sci-fi convention time is slightly depressing to watch, both for Davis and for the couple he publically shames. The outtakes contain a hunk of Neeson/Gervais crack-ups as well as a great moment where Davis has the shit scared out of him by a hand through a dog door. Finally, there is a behind-the-scenes section, full of shorter impulsive bits devoted to Davis, Cheryl, and the multitude of episodic events, like the sci-fi con and the auction among others.
There are plenty of other comedies out there, even on HBO, that might be worth your time more than this, but life's too short to leave Davis out of your life entirely. I promise the show’s funnier than that terrible line was.
Length: 205 mins.
Distributor: HBO Home Video
Release Date: 01/15/2013
Starring: Warwick Davis, Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant
Directed by: Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant
Created by: Ricky Gervais, Warwick Davis, Stephen Merchant,