HBO // 2012 // 205 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // January 4th, 2013
He's big on ego. A little short on everything else.
Did you like that short joke? Well get ready for a whole lot more.
Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's latest project delivers an in-depth look at what it's like being a washed-up dwarf actor named Warwick Davis, played by Warwick Davis. Davis plays an a-hole version of himself, a diminutive thespian desperately looking for work and embroiled in the middle of a divorce. Worse, he's discovered that he owes a quarter of a million dollars in back taxes.
Unfortunately, the market for little person actors has apparently dried up, forcing Warwick to accept all manner of humiliating jobs and beg his pals Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant (playing themselves as well) for any scraps of work they might have. Along the way, he has various and sundry run-ins with Liam Neeson, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and Sting. Then, more short jokes.
This pains me.
I first heard of this show from Warwick Davis himself, during a podcast interview. A new show written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant? Starring you, Warwick Davis? How can that not be instant gold?!
Shockingly, not only is Life's Too Short not instant gold, is genuinely bad. It is plodding, unfunny, and completely tone-deaf. I consider The Office the gold standard of half-hour television comedy and Willow just happens to be all-time favorite movie, so you should know that when I express crushing disappointment at the confluence of these legendary elements, I am being truthful. This show is simply not that good.
The blame can be spread around. Gervais and Merchant, as brilliant as they often are, just continually strike out with their writing. The setups aren't especially engaging, with the payoffs falling short of the jackpots they achieved with The Office and Extras. Like those shows, the humor utilized here is of the painfully awkward variety, though I have now learned that there is indeed such a thing awkwardness being too painful. There's not a likable character to be found, save for Warwick's dopey, oblivious assistant.
The predicaments Warwick Davis is put into are borderline cruel. If the payoffs were a few degrees more clever I suppose I could get behind what Gervais and Merchant are doing with the characters, but in the end it always seems to come down to a short joke -- or the guest stars recoiling in horror to Warwick's dwarfism.
Hey, Davis is obviously up to it. The show was partially his brainchild, anyway. Which is why I have to grudgingly slide some blame pie over to him as well. I can see what the character was supposed to be: an ego-driven jackass who has a too-inflated opinion of himself. That is achieved, for sure, but after all that befalls Warwick and the incessant flow of vitriol aimed at him, he eventually became a sympathetic character -- even though he never ceased to be a jerk and brought so much crap down on himself. This weirdo duality points more to an unfocused piece of character development than any conscious effort on Davis or Gervais/Merchant's part to craft someone nuanced. The upshot: as both a victim of hilarious awkwardness and someone I gave a half a fig about, "Warwick" came up short. Oh man, now I'm doing it.
HBO's two-disc set delivers the episodes in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with 5.1 Dolby Digital audio. Extras include a making-of documentary, a series of ten behind-the-scenes clips, deleted scenes, and a gag reel.
As much as I'm down on this show, I would be remiss if I didn't note that in Episode 1, one of the funniest sequences I have ever seen on any size screen transpires: Liam Neeson's attempt at improvisational comedy.
A few moments of levity fail to compensate for what is essentially a seven-episode arc of largely laugh-free meanness.
Small dude, big disappointment. Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 205 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes