Actor Warwick Davis is used to being overlooked: not only have many of his most famous roles found him hidden inside his makeup and costumes (including Wicket the Ewok from Return of the Jedi, Marvin the Paranoid Android from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie, and the Leprechaun from the Leprechaun series), but he's also only three feet tall (well, 3' 6"). Now, he's hired a documentary crew to follow him around as he looks for work, but what the crew ends up capturing is merely Davis' own ego, in terms of his work, in terms of his fame, and in terms of his love life.
Created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant (with the help of Davis), "Life's Too Short" returns the directing / writing duo to the mockumentary format of "The Office" and the celeb-skewering premise of "Extras." Unfortunately, that's exactly what it feels like: a return to formats that were already successful for them. Despite Davis' game participation, the series never comes close to the comic or emotional highs and lows of Gervais and Merchant's previous two series, and in fact often feels like the screenplay leftovers from those two series were gathered and hastily re-written.
The series, like "The Office" (and to a lesser extent, "Extras,") is predicated around the idea that Davis is actually an egocentric buffoon who routinely digs his own grave. Davis certainly commits to the concept, but where there was leeway in the way David Brent was puffing up his self-importance for the camera, and Andy Millman was generally more innocent in awkward situations, Davis plays a version of himself who really does begin to get annoying after a single episode, and is nearly insufferable by the end. In one of the bonus features, Gervais claims there has to be a shred of sympathy for the character for the comedy to work. Although he's certainly not wrong, "Life's Too Short" fails to make Davis likable. One of the series' running arcs is Davis' debt, but Gervais and Merchant arbitrarily give him the ability to buy things in several episodes. When a later episode pops up in which special guest star Sting goads Davis into spending a ton of money on a charity, one wonders not only where the money came from, but why we should feel bad that he's been talked into spending it on something worthwhile, as opposed to hiring a star (Cat Deeley) to appear at his flat-warming party.
The series also covers Davis' awkward romantic encounters, both in his divorce from his wife Sue (Jo Enright), and with Amy (Kiruna Stamell), who he meets on a dating site and quickly falls for. It would be one thing if Davis kept putting his foot in his mouth out of nervousness, but again, it's always his own arrogance that rises up to knock him down. Stamell is lovely and the chemistry between Warwick and herself is excellent, but her character is sadly underdeveloped and the romance never gains even a fraction of the importance that Gervais and Merchant hope it has by the time the series ends. The worst element of the show by far is also introduced through Davis' divorce: Steve Brody as his long-time accountant, Eric. Shades of Darren Lamb are present, but Eric's failure to do anything correctly soars past "entertainingly clueless" to "embarrassing failure." By the time Davis and Eric are rolling around on the floor, fighting over a legal document, in front of Sue and her lawyer, it's hard to feel anything but pity for both of them.
Admittedly, some material works, despite its flaws. Davis' one industry connection is Ricky and Steve, playing themselves, and although it makes very little sense that he would be able to keep dropping by their office, despite their disdain for him, these scenes open the door for some celebrity interactions. It would've been better suited for "Extras," but there's no denying that the much-hyped Liam Neeson and Johnny Depp appearances are very, very funny, as is a Steve Carell cameo in which Gervais is the butt of the joke. The show also offers the return of Shaun Williamson, again playing a lowly office helper, and Keith Chegwin and Les Dennis, who also frequently pop into Ricky and Steve's office. A simple, horrible gag with the three of them sitting on a couch talking about the suicides they envision for themselves is one of the series' most outrageous bits of low-key physical comedy (although Davis himself is no slouch, performing a few pratfalls with skill).
HBO brings "Life's Too Short" to DVD with lighthearted art that uses well-chosen colors to highlight Davis and Gervais together. A cardboard slipcover features a synopsis of the show, a list of guest appearances, the extra features, and technical specs, with an entirely different design on the inside free of all text aside from the title. The two discs are housed in a standard-sized eco-friendly Amaray case (the kind that uses less plastic, not the kind with holes), and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
As the show is a mockumentary, "Life's Too Short" offers an accurately limited A/V presentation. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is nicely detailed, but the digital source has a warm, washed-out appearance, robbing the image of much depth. In darker areas of the screen, mosquito noise is visible but not particularly distracting. Occasionally, reds appear to be oversaturated, popping off the screen in a way that other colors generally don't. Audio is a Dolby Digital 5.1 track that handles the music nicely, but otherwise is generally contained by whatever environment the show is taking place in (the interior of a car, a crowded convention floor, a fancy dinner, Ricky and Steve's office, etc). Both the picture and the sound are in keeping with the premise and don't need to be any flashier or more impressive to accentuate the comedy, so there shouldn't be any complaints. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and French and Spanish subtitles are also included.
"The Making of 'Life's Too Short'" (27:48) is a clip-heavy, promotional-style overview of the series. Gervais, Merchant, and Davis discuss the genesis of the series and why they chose to return to the mockumentary format. Interestingly, Davis is almost too humble and quiet to interject over Ricky, meaning there aren't many of his insights in this extra. More valuable, in terms of insight, is a gallery of "Behind the Scenes" vignettes (27:37), which include B-roll, interview snippets, and other goofing off between takes.
"Deleted Scenes" (10:23) is really only three scenes, and mysteriously only from the first three episodes (one each). Still, they include a very funny additional scene of Neeson doing stand-up. The disc finishes off with a painfully brief selection of "outtakes" (4:32), with plenty more of Neeson, but sadly, none of Depp.
A somewhat outdated promo for HBO (featuring "Entourage" and "Bored to Death") plays before the main menu on Disc 1. Each disc also offers on-screen episode guides.
Sadly, "Life's Too Short" doesn't have much to bring to the table. Davis is ready and willing to mock himself, but this is ground already well-traveled by Gervais and Merchant, and that knowledge is impossible to shake. A rental at best.
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