Last night’s TV: Life’s Too Short
For a man who created one of the most popular comedy series of the last decade, won a garageful of awards, presented the Golden Globes and was included on Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people, Ricky Gervais cuts a surprisingly insecure figure sometimes.
His hero worship of Johnny Depp on Graham Norton’s chat show was the most recent example of his desire to be loved and accepted.
Before that, Extras, his series about jobbing actors struggling to make a living from television and movie bit parts, became an exercise in name dropping as Gervais went through his contacts book to show off how many famous people were willing to appear as guest stars.
It had its moments, but its shelf life was limited (nobody has that many celebrity buddies). When it finished, Gervais’s many fans wondered what Ricky would do next.
Other than his detour into animation on The Ricky Gervais Show, what he has done, judging by Life’s Too Short (BBC2), is combine the mock documentary format he perfected on The Office with Extras’ obsession with his famous friends.
It’s as though he can’t bear to leave his comfort zone and is happy to plough the same familiar furrow.
Which is not to say that Life’s Too Short is a disaster, merely that we expect more from Gervais currently than he appears willing or able to give.
A mock doc on the life of Warwick Davis – “a sophisticated dwarf about town”, it does have brief bursts of inspired humour, but is also meandering and unfocused.
Davis, a “real-life” thespian who has appeared in Return Of The Jedi and in the Harry Potter movies, stars as an actor who can’t get work (shades of Extras). He runs the Dwarves For Hire agency in his spare time. His marriage is over; his life’s a mess.
There is no reason why the main character has to be a dwarf. The show has nothing new to say about life as a little person, no insight into the difficulties experienced by a 3ft 6ins man that would allow us to sympathise with Davis.
Neither does the dwarfism produce many laughs. Gervais and his writing partner Stephen Merchant seem to find great humour in little folk, but it’s the old and clichéd slapstick stuff that seems to amuse them – Davis falling out of a car, unable to reach a doorbell.
Circuses have been doing that kind of stuff for more than a hundred years.
In fact, Davis is a profoundly dislikeable dwarf, deluded about his level of fame, nasty about his wife, racked with self-pity.
Gervais and Merchant try desperately to squeeze some humour out of his offensiveness but it’s a hit and miss affair.
In one scene, Davis tries to make a case that dwarfs are modern day slaves. He has no time for people who point out that unlike slaves, dwarfs were never taken violently away from their families, had their names changed, and made to work long hours for no pay for complete strangers.
When people say that, he says, he tells them that “I’ve never seen a black man fired from a cannon, every day of the week and twice on Saturdays”. That line occurred early in the show, and until Liam Neeson turned up near the end, that was the extent of the humour.
Neeson was a revelation as a comedy actor. Playing himself as an actor who wanted to change career and become a stand-up comedian, he tried to display his gift for humour by improvising sketches with Gervais in which his characters all ended up having Aids.
It’s not very funny when you read it, admittedly, but it was hilarious to watch, a brief moment of inspiration in an otherwise humdrum affair.
Neeson stole the show, although there wasn’t very much too steal.