This time around, it's Warwick Davis who takes the lead (and co-writes the series), and as the opening credits explain, he's the little person actor who has starred in "Willow," the original "Star Wars" trilogy and the 'Harry Potter' films. Here, he plays a heightened version of himself (excuse the pun) that is not unlike Andy Millman, who believes his talent far outweighs the recognition he has received to date, and he longs to land the big meaty role he feels he deserves. The first episode of the series is essentially an introduction to the world and characters we'll be spending time with over the next few weeks. Filmed in Gervais' now standard faux-documentary style, we learn that Davis is in the process of being separated from his wife and owes a huge tax bill thanks to the efforts of his incompetent accountant (Stephen Brody, who is essentially an archetype of Merchant's Darren Lamb from "Extras"). Davis is also running his own agency (of sorts), Dwarves For Hire, and hires Cheryl (Rosamund Hanson who played Smell on "This Is England") as his unethusiastic and clueless secretary.
But as we mentioned, while the ingredients may be very familiar, Gervais and Davis do cook up another winning formula that is engaging and riotously funny, while turning the innocuous hiccups of daily life into their own comedic scenarios. But the series thus far is not without its flaws. The format of show relies on cameos each episode (another page from "Extras") and while they offer some of the best laughs, they are rather unimaginately introduced. Davis literally runs into Liam Neeson during a meeting with Ricky and Stephen, while both Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter come from various gigs that the actor signs on for. Even the presence of Gervais and Merchant is rather lamely explained, as Davis makes a habit of dropping in on them in the hopes of getting work (wouldn't he just hire an agent or talk with different people in the industry rather than just these two guys?). It's easy to look over these weaknesses when the show is as good as it is, but as the season continues, we do hope the celebrity encounters are given some variety.
But three episodes in (we'll discuss the second half of the series in a few weeks), "Life's Too Short" shows that Gervais and company are still at the height of their powers. The comedian has found a fantastic and fascinating lead in Davis whose performance here is fearless. He gamely allows himself to be subject to some truly degrading (and gaspingly funny) moments, while keenly able to shake it all off and power ahead, ever hopeful that his desires and opportunities will finally dovetail. "Life's Too Short" is another acute, perceptive study of ambition and the unexpected, often side-splitting surprises that lie in wait. [B]
"Life's Too Short" airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.