Life's Too Short Review: Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant, Warwick Davis Series Ends With A Whimper
And so we arrived at the final scene of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's sitcom about a dwarf.
Its lead character Warwick Davis was tucked up in a drawer having watched his life fall apart in every possible way. Then the phone rang.
Like Brent with his blind date and Andy Millman going back to Maggie, redemption appeared at the last moment in the form of a tolerant woman who we were supposed to believe would finally convince Warwick to drop the charade, be true to himself and be happy.
The problem was this dramatic device is the same problem with much of the comedy in Life's Too Short - it felt over familiar, like a diluted form of what had gone before. The inescapable sense over the series has been that Warkwick is just Brent, his solicitor is just Millman's agent and Les Dennis and 'Barry from EastEnders' are just Les Dennis and 'Barry from Eastenders', just even more desperate and pathetic.
For Gervais/Merchant fan boys like me - who can quote eighty percent of the The Office script verbatim and still finds it hilarious - coming to this conclusion has not been enjoyable.
The critical backlash against Gervais in recent years has been pursued with far too much relish and self-importance in certain sections of the media, long before he gave them the perfect stick to beat him with by igniting a 'Twitter outrage' last month.
In truth the knives were out long before then, and for all Ricky attempts to shrug it off, going from being the saviour of British comedy to a 'too big for his boots' a***hole has clearly wounded him and pushed him further towards his propensity for self-caricature.
It was to this backdrop that Life's Too Short arrived, its premise greeted by a collective intake of breath. Would it be something fresh and challenging like The Office, or a series of humiliating digs at Warwicks's height, a sort of Idiot Abroad starring someone with a medical condition? Too many critics, it seemed, were secretly rooting for the latter.
In the event, over the course of seven episodes we saw Warwick plunged into a toilet by Johnny Depp, made to stand in a bin by a repulsed Helena Bonham Carter and generally asked to stumble or trip over at least once an episode - usually to compound a moment of rejection or humiliation.
But the slapstick hasn't really been the problem with Life's Too Short. The fact that Warwick is a dwarf has been a red herring. The real problem is that he wasn't written as an original comic character, he was a regurgitation of the Gervaisian archetype – the buffoon with delusions of grandeur who no one else can stand.
What Gervais and Merchant don't seem to have realised is the extent to which the mannerisms, intonations and ok-please-stop-talking-now monologues of David Brent have been absorbed into the comedy parlance of our times. In the same way that everyone once 'did' a Del Boy or a Basil Fawlty, Brent is no longer the awful boss we all once had, he's the character we impersonate for fun.
And so seeing Warwick Davis - who is a good actor clearly capable of much more – ‘do’ a Brent, right down to using some of the exact same phrases, meant watching Life's Too Short felt like hearing a band who changed everything with their first album slip into self-parody for their third.
There is a riposte Gervais is fond of directing at critics, and it goes along the lines of: "yeah – how many sitcoms have they written?" There is no answer to that, of course, because no one is likely to write a sitcom as good as The Office for the next ten or twenty years.
But then we don't ask that the artists we admire better themselves every time they do anything new. All we hope is that they keep trying to do something different, keep pushing the limits of their creativity in order to take us to new places. True fans – not the ones like Andy Millman's Count Fuckula - admire this more than anything.
There were laughs of course, and by the standards of average TV sitcoms Life's Too Short was excellent. But Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant will never be measured against the standards of average TV sitcoms - nor would they wish to be. The Office and Extras, particularly the denouements, made comedy into something stirring and beautiful and new.
In the end the disappointing thing about Life's Too Short wasn't that the falling out of cars and not reaching door bells felt like exploitation - it's that they felt like the freshest ideas on offer.