Life’s Too Short Episode 1 Review
Life’s Too Short is the brilliant new sitcom from Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant starring Warwick Davis as the short part in the title. It’s a mockumentary in the style of The Office and it feels good to see Gervais and Merchant returning to that format, something they certainly have the feel for.
It follows a fictionalized version of Warwick through his daily life, taking calls about potential jobs for him and the dwarves he represents at his agency, Dwarves for Hire, meeting other celebrities who are also playing fictionalized versions of themselves (Liam Neeson, for example, wants to get into standup comedy in this first episode) and dealing with the divorce his wife is putting him through.
This version of Davis is arrogant, conceited and can’t seem to see his failings, laying them on other people and events in his life. However, we can feel some sympathy for him as he seems to be surrounded by people who must be the worst at their jobs in the world. His accountant, for example, is an old friend of Davis’ but doesn’t know that the UK changed the top rate of tax from 40% to 50% recently. His realization causes him to look around at his clients’ files, whimpering.
His new secretary for his agency, at first meeting, seems to be very, very stupid. She has a droning voice and a gormless (stupid) look about her. Her dream is ‘sales and marketing.’ When Davis’ questions that as a dream she says she would actually like to prove that ‘the people who went to the moon actually went to the moon.’ She is happy to be paid little for the work as her parents say she can live rent free as long as she’s out of the house until 6pm. She is hired as Davis has no more applicants for his position.
For me, the real meat of the show is Davis’ interaction with Gervais and Merchant, who play themselves. It always seems like a hassle for them to meet with Davis as Gervais looks at his watch a lot and Merchant outright asks him “What do you want? ‘Cos we’re conscious of time.” Davis is oblivious to this dismissal and comes to them in the first instance looking for work, of which they have nothing at the moment, though they are working on various things. You get the feeling that they don’t have much respect for him at the moment as they make a small motion with their finger and thumb while saying: “We don’t need any… at the moment” letting the action for small person fill the gap. Gervais says this while letting a laugh escape his lips.
The second time they meet, Davis is present for a meeting with Liam Neeson. This awkward scene is where Gervais and Merchant’s skills as comedy writers shine, making something both very funny and excruciatingly awkward. Neeson has come for some tips on standup comedy, something he wants to break into. He brings a list of things he wants to do on stage and comments that that is probably the reason Spielberg chose him to play Oskar Schindler, because he makes a lot of lists. Everyone thinks this is a joke, but it turns out he’s serious. Having seen outtakes and blooper reels where Gervais was unable to keep his cool under the sort of deadpan delivery Neeson is capable of, I imagine that was a tough scene to get done.
So they move on to some improvisational comedy. Neeson plays a hypochondriac and Gervais is a doctor. The way Neeson plays this improve session is so awkward, but that’s what makes it hilarious. He plays it as if it’s the most serious thing in the world and the exchange is incredible.
Gervais: Hi. How’s it going? What seems to be the problem?
Neeson: I’ve contracted AIDS.
Gervais: How did you get that?
Neeson: From an African prostitute. Umm. I’m riddled with it. The prostitute’s from an African country that’s ravaged with starvation. So, selling her body was the only financial recourse she had left.
His delivery is completely serious and, technically, it’s brilliant improvisation. He’s not even trying to make it sound funny. Merchant has to interject here and tell Neeson that AIDS and famine and prostitutes are a little bit too heavy for a comedy sketch.
So they try again. Neeson replaces the prostitute with a well known homosexual actor whose name is bleeped out as part of the show. Merchant again interjects and tells Neeson that he probably shouldn’t say the name as the documentary crew is there filming. The best line of the scene is easily Neeson’s, delivered completely deadpan: “I’ve got full blown AIDS.” I could not stop laughing!
One of my favourite parts of the scene is where Neeson asks how Gervais gets away with making jokes about AIDS and famine and both Gervais and Merchant say: “We don’t know.” This is a nice nod to the sort of criticism Gervais gets about his comedy simply because he refuses to apologize for humour that may not be to everyone’s taste. On the Piers Morgan show after hosting the Golden Globes he said: “Just because someone gets offended doesn’t mean they’re right.”
It may only be the first episode but, so far, Life’s Too Short is shaping up to be as good as Extras and certainly has as good a cast as Extras. Johnny Depp, Cat Deeley and Steve Carell are all starring later in the season. I can’t wait to see what they get up to!
- Daryl Cox