No one can ever accuse Ricky Gervais of not being self-aware, or self-deprecating. In "Life's Too Short," Gervais' latest creation, Johnny Depp cameos as himself, ripping into Gervais with a stream of bad jokes (because as Depp puts it, "no one makes fun of Tim Allen on my watch."), culminating with the deliciously self-ware, "I hear Ricky Gervais quit Twitter recently because it only has 140 characters, well that's 139 more characters than he's ever come up with." Not for a second, would anyone familiar with Gervais' work truly believe Gervais' writing is that shallow at a deeper level. Part of the problem lies with Gervais himself playing these abrasive and flawed characters he invents, so when it came time for another actor to fill the shoes of the lead in a mockumentary based program, many felt it would be vindication for Gervais as a writer, but alas, "Life's Too Short" intentionally or not, validates the joke that inhabits it.
The focal point of the show (I refuse to use the phrase hero or protagonist because he's inherently abhorrent) is Warwick Davis (who you might remember as Willow or the Leprechaun), playing an obviously fictitious version of himself. When the series begins, we see Davis struggling to make a go at the business of being a talent agent for fellow dwarves, cope with a divorce, and pine sadly for days gone by. In reality Davis is happily married and his career is far from dried up (the series paints the image that things ended after "Willow"), right off the bat, the performance from Davis as this wholly unlikable abrasive character is quite impressive, until we realize, sadly in fact, he's playing yet another riff of David Brent and Andy Millman, albeit sans any sort of pathos.
This unoriginal characterization would be tolerable if, "Life's Too Short" had any sense of direction. The series is undeniably the most mean spirited offering from Gervais to date, mining cheap height based jokes and now stale social faux pas to the point where you're ready to give up, only to be rewarded with something truly brilliant. Even if you haven't seen the series, chances are you've seen the now virally famous clip of Liam Neeson from the show, playing a character of himself going to Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant (who show up from time to time to belittle Warrick) in an attempt to learn comedy. It's a testament to Gervais, Merchant and Davis' skills as writers (all three are credited) to take something as horribly low-brow and insensitive as the phrase "I have full blown AIDS" and make it into one of the most hilarious pieces of television in recent memory (justly, Neeson deserves a huge portion, maybe the lion's share, for his deadpan delivery). Similar moments of brilliance stem from Davis confronting an online bully (the payoff is Gervais' unique brand of cringe humor) or Johnny Depp demanding Davis "Riverdance" as he madly plays a flute. But at the end of the day, all this genius makes up a small portion of a very flawed series.
As the series drags to a slow end of seven episodes (plans for a second season have been scrapped and things will be wrapped up in a special episode later this year), the celebrity cameos feel pointless and gimmicky (save for an eleventh hour appearance by Sting) and when it becomes apparent there's not an ounce of sympathy on the horizon for Davis, the general emotion felt by a viewer is one of misery and frustration for feeling their time has been wasted. It's all the more unfortunate as "Life's Too Short" has a few strong performances from supporting characters, notably Rosamund Hanson as Davis' dimwitted secretary. "Life's Too Short" is best summed up as an ugly, bloated experience with little redeeming qualities. It is almost in fact, every negative unfair stereotype related to Gervais' writing talents brought to life either subconsciously or subversively aware; I'm inclined to believe it's a strong mix of both and frankly, I debate whether I can be troubled to see how things are wrapped up as even an hour more of this nonsense is time wrongly wasted.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer retains a strong video look, keeping in conjunction with the "mockumentary" style of filmmaking. Detail is above average on a whole and compression artifacts are more noticeable than expected. Coloring is consistent but slightly on the washed out side, making an emotionally drab show feel even more so. Edge enhancement is kept to a minimum, while contrast levels are generally acceptable.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 audio track often feels like a near perfect, stereo offering, but now and then, the surrounds give some life to the action on screen (the scenes at a sci-fi convention spring to mind). Dialogue could have been mixed a little more strongly, but overall, it's a more than serviceable track. French 5.1 and Spanish 2.0 tracks are included as well as English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
"The Making of Life's Too Short" is the focal point of the bonus features, giving a broad overview of the series' creation, while the 10 behind-the-scenes clips give a more fly-on-the wall look to aspects of filming. A collection of deleted scenes (including an even more hilarious close to the Liam Neeson sequence) and outtakes rounds things out.
"Life's Too Short" may be at times a miserable viewing experience, but it's not a stupid series by any measure. While performances are quite strong, the writing reaches a level of stagnation that feels like a bad mixture of self-indulgence and poor guidance. In my heart, I'd like to think Gervais had a modicum of redemption in store for Davis' character, but he shows nothing to indicate that's the case, and ultimately, that lack of humanity is what makes the show all the more tough to stomach. Gervais fans definitely need to check it out, as it proves a great mind is not perfect, while those intrigued are best left checking out the first two episodes and moving letting the rest set untouched (the most earnest laughs come here). Rent It.