I really don't want to do this. It feels like telling your kids you just don't love them any more, or stabbing a Labrador in the nose with a cocktail stick... yeah, well maybe not, that but it's pretty gut-wrenching in any case.
There's a sketch in 'Kentucky Fried Movie' called 'Rex Kramer- Danger Seeker!' We see Rex, a weedy white guy, put a crash helmet on and, after a brave 'I'm going in' wave to the camera he stands amongst a gang of big black guys, gambling on a disused railway track. He screams 'NIGGERS!' at the top of his voice and then legs it as they chase after him.
I feel like Rex right now. I know that what I'm about to write will not only alienate me from right-minded folk everywhere but will probably get me chased by a righteous lynch mob. Unlike Rex the racist, I'm doing it to someone I love and respect too so the pain is all the sharper. I'm going to do the old 'plaster removal' technique and just get the pain over with in one go:
'Life's Too Short' isn't funny, to me.
Last night I watched the episode that Ricky Gervais had tweeted was the best of the series and included the 'best thing ever said on TV' and I thought that I would finally laugh after sitting silently through every episode so far.
I felt like a drunk trying to make himself sick so he can get a decent night's sleep. Head in a toilet bowl, fingers tickling tonsils, desperately trying to get my body to do something it clearly doesn't want to do and dreading the process but knowing I'll feel much better after it's done.
When the episode was over and I still wasn't purged I wanted to cry.
Here was some brand new comedy from my idol. I'd been waiting for it for ages. I'd clicked on all the tweeted links from the great man himself. I'd laughed heartily at the scene with Liam Neeson trying to break into stand-up, (seen in isolation) and ran out to tell all my friends that the new series was going to be superb.
I'm a huge RG fan. I've listened to every podcast so many times I can almost recite them from memory. I followed and adored the birth of KP, like Ed Harris in The Truman Show, with love and empathy and huge tears of laughter. I loved Ricky in all his stand-up DVDs and even 'The 11 O'clock show' (I always thought Ricky Grover's 'Bulla' was going to be a big hit too) and remember the awkwardness and bravery of his interview technique in the hardly seen Meet Ricky Gervais.
I've watched with utter admiration and loyalty everything he's done, but 'Life's Too Short' makes me feel like an Elvis fan leaving a concert in the early 70's, knowing he's just seen his god as a mere mortal- fallible, human and, sadly, just no longer able to do that which he used to shake the world doing with every breath.
Before you remind me of the ratings and, more importantly, the huge success, incredible reviews and general appreciation from genuine fans, I know I'm wrong.
I know it really is funny because everyone tells me it is. My own friends tweet the man himself, knowing full well the odds on a reply, just to tell him how much they're enjoying it and can't wait for more. (As do I but on every other subject I can think of) Meanwhile, I'm sitting there every week like a kid who lives next door to a vampire, pressing his bare neck against the castle window and shouting, "Bite me! I'm O-Negative, never eat garlic and I'm a virgin! Why won't you bite me?"
Warwick Davies is a cracking actor. The opening scene in the last Harry Potter film, where he plays a captured Griphook, is mesmerising. His pacing is sublime and the menace and regret he builds into the scene is fantastic.
What he's not so good at is David Brent impressions and that's mainly what's asked of him in LTS- well, that and the need to look like he's genuinely enjoying being ridiculed.
This is where it gets tricky. If RG were ever to read this, or Stephen Merchant of course because he doesn't get anywhere near enough exposure and all the podcasts allow him to do is subtly reveal his sexual frustration, I'm sure he'd tell me what I've been telling his 'haters' for years.
He's NOT a bully, he's NOT racist, he's NOT homophobic (bit harder to back up if you listen to the podcasts but I like to ignore patterns and give him the benefit of the doubt) and, most of all, he's definitely NOT using Warwick Davis as some kind of toy for his amusement and mockery. It's ironic, It's satire- it's bloody fiction!
Is it? I notice Brent wasn't called Gervais and yet the name chosen for Warwick's character is...
He posted a clip of him and Warwick (dressed as a frog) sitting on some stairs. It was meant to be a promotional clip for LTS but it was just him making Warwick do stuff and laughing his nuts off at it. He has the manner of a young Louis XIV, presented with a new toy. Walk here, stand there, can you jump up and down little man? If I throw you at a wall will you stick to it? Every time Warwick does as he's bid, Ricky just points and laughs and looks at us through the lens, and I can't see, "This is me and my mate having a laugh together," or even, "we're in character, as ourselves but definitely still in character." I can just see, "Look at how ridiculous he looks in this frog suit because he's a dwarf. What shall I make him do next?" It's funny to him because Warwick is a dwarf, not because his mate is acting like a fool for laughs. It could be any dwarf.
It doesn't fit with their fictional relationship in LTS (this dwarf is really not our friend and keeps popping in, uninvited) so it comes across as a reflection of their real relationship.
My problem is that where I should see a great pair of mates playing the characters of bully and victim, lord and jester, organ grinder and monkey, to highlight amongst other things the struggles of life as a dwarf- and I must say that LTS has done that for me if nothing else. I just see Warwick going along with it because... well It's Ricky Gervais and it's a massive career boost and it will make him globally famous in his own right, and if he were to protest he'd be cutting his nose off to spite his face and seem like an ungrateful killjoy that isn't brave enough to make himself look a fool for comedy- like Ricky does all the time. See my ugly photos on Twitter? And it's not exploitation, ask Karl, he's a grown man, he can always say no.
I get all that but I don't see it. What I also don't see is anything original in LTS. The awkwardness in the scenes that made the office so engrossing and that was bolstered by being reflected off the polished surface of A-List Hollywood in Extras now looks genuinely awkward- the wrong way. Last night's appearance by Cat Deeley was pointless, unrealistic and just not very funny. It's not even saved by Warwick doing his best Brent and looking embarrassed at the camera every three seconds as if to say, "Wow! Did you see that boys and girls? That was embarrassing wasn't it? Did you get the madness of what my assistant just said? Did you? Coz that was it, just then, that was the funny bit and I'm caught up in it and... well, just checking you saw that funny bit just then." Nor by anybody else's Brent either. The Clairvoyant was some guy doing a Brent, the accountant is some guy doing a Brent. It's like the auditions for an am-dram production of The Office.
As for plot- something so beautifully drawn in the past projects, the whole 'throwing away the new washing machine' scene that was telegraphed from the moment we saw that there were two machines but still managed to eat up several minutes of screen time, wouldn't have made it into Some Mothers Do Have 'Em in the 70s. It was just lazy and predictable and utterly unbelievable. Then there's Warwick's supposed insensitivity, which appears out of nowhere and out of character, with his new girlfriend and everyone around him. It's so utterly stretched beyond panto that it's no more awkward than seeing Tom hit Jerry in the face with a frying pan.
We still have our Big names of course. There's Ricky himself, painting himself the bad guy so... you know. "Come on Warwick, if I can do it." The episode with Johnny Depp, which I just didn't find- well you get the idea, was plastered all over the internet and TV. It felt exactly like Warwick introducing Cat Deeley or Right Said Fred, "look everyone! It's Johnny Depp! Pretty amazing eh? Johnny Depp everyone! Look!" It looked like an afternoon of poor improv that we all just had to marvel at because it was... Johnny Depp, Yeah, I get it, he's proper famous and all that.
Where's Warwick's payback? When do we get on his side? Where's that subtlety of The Office? Those silences and that realism? Where's all the believability gone?
Life's Too Short is like Gervais and Merchant said, "Right, we've done the fake documentary- brilliant. We've done real life celebrities playing themselves- check. We've also done the old, he's not really an idiot, he's a great natural resource and we're not bullying him because we're really great mates- loving all that. Let's just do them all and make the lead a dwarf- they're funny."
There's just no substance and nothing new happening. It's just like the bits that never made the previous shows have been squashed into a dwarf who has then been told- "the only thing you can bring to this character is your height. Do your best Brent and take it on the chin and we'll make you a star."
I'm in a no-win situation here because it's going great guns and is loved by all and I'm sure I'd get some 'idiots like this just show me I'm doing it right' tweet from Ricky if he ever did read this but I have to say as I find, even if it kills me to do so.
Every joke in 'The Office' was unexpected. I cringed, I could hardly look, I cried with laughter. As for LTS? Two out of three aint bad- it's heartbreaking.
Follow Ian Watson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/elywhitley