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Review: 'Life's Too Short' Gets Darker, Grows More Incisive As It Heads Toward The Season Finale

Television
by Kevin Jagernauth
March 18, 2012 12:58 PM
7 Comments
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While Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant have been rightly celebrated for creating some of the best, most observant comedy of the last few years in "The Office" and "Extras," the success and brilliance of those shows have been possible due to their willingness to eviscerate the main characters. David Brent and Andy Millman both have their ego and hubris splashed heavily with buckets of cold water throughout both series. What has made both of those shows rise beyond their seeming sitcom trappings, has been the greater character truths that arrive as their grand ambitions face hard and harsh reality.

After the end of season one's first three episodes (review here) of "Life's Too Short," we last see Warwick Davis standing in a garbage pail, acting as a stand-in opposite a very picky Helena Bonham Carter as she shoots a period movie. It's a riotously funny moment, but in many ways that scene marks the end of the show's more whimsical opening episodes. Favoring comedy over pathos, those first shows of "Life's Too Short" fit an established format that found the fictionalized Warwick Davis struggling to find work, managing a divorce and routinely visiting Ricky Geravis and Stephen Merchant to solicit them for jobs and advice, only to bump into a celebrity along the way. But a marked shift begins to happen in the remaining four episodes of the series.

This immediately becomes clear in the fourth episode, aired last week. First up, it delivers the last celebrity cameo that takes place in the offices of Gervais and Merchant (from a nicely deadpan Steve Carell), but more importantly we get the first true indication of how truly deluded Warwick is. We see him enter the race to win the chairman's seat in the People Of Short Stature advocacy group. In an effort to put his feeble campaign over the top, on the day of the vote he gets Right Said Fred to drop in to give him a last-minute endorsement. Besides being a brilliantly random cameo, from a character perspective, it indicates exactly where Warwick's understanding of cultural relevancy has ended, giving his efforts to find work and fame again an added dimension. It also marks a certain level of arrogance -- hinted at before, but that grows into a fuller bloom -- that Warwick has towards the public in general, that any person of celebrity or fame, becomes a subject of fawning admiration.

As the show heads into the final three episodes, this vanity -- coupled with insecurity -- begins to lend the show a much darker and more incisive tone and attitude than it has ever had before, with both funny and dramatic results. What we'll see in the remaining episodes (don't worry, no major spoilers) is Warwick finalizing his divorce and entering the dating game (both of which reveal uglier sides to his onscreen persona), and yes, some cameos that are far more organically ingrained, including a rather brilliant turn from Cat Deeley. Through all of it, Warwick's desperation in almost every part of his life begins to peak, and in typical fashion from the team of Gervais and Merchant, just when it seems the bleakest, the season ends on a well earned and warm note of optimism.

All that said, there is still room for improvement in the show. First up, as the series heads into a second season, one character they should seriously considering dropping is Warwick's hapless accountant played by Steve Brody. The man, who is responsible for causing Warwick's huge tax bill, is unbelievably hired to be his advisor of sorts during the divorce proceedings, and the accountant's boorish, buffoonish behavior (which largely amounts to laughing during inappropriate moments) seems dialed in from a completely different show, and his appearances often grind the momentum to a halt. Conversely, Rosamund Hanson's Cheryl needs to be utilized more. She is a great foil for Warwick, and her effortless cluelessness brings more laughs than Brody's much more cloying antics. She's a character that could smartly be expanded, and we'd love to see that happen.

Fitting the now-established Gervais/Merchant format, "Life's Too Short" runs a total of seven episodes, and that condensed nature allows the duo to concentrate nearly every element of the show and the story it has to tell. Veering much further from the "The Office"/"Extras" template of the first three episodes, "Life's Too Short" truly comes into its own as another singular, winning creation from the team. We'll be ready to see where they go next in season two. [B+]

"Life's Too Short" airs Sundays at 10:30 PM on HBO.

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7 Comments

  • dctraveler | March 22, 2012 9:36 AMReply

    Agree mightily with this review. "Cheryl" makes me laugh whenever she's on camera. Brody is a funny invention but I think what's missing is why he's such a baffoon.
    One thing that repeats well is how Davis accepts and accommodates the parade of nitwits in his life. On Extras, Gervais didn't miss the shortcomings of those around him, but Davis is even more interesting in how he works with oddballs (asking Cheryl her moneymaking ideas, not firing Brody). Like Jack Benny or Seinfield, the more Davis surrounds himself with oddballs, the stronger the comedy becomes; and the more we see Davis not as a dwarf but as a human being, his shortness no great advantage but not the biggest of the problems. It's all the "normal" people who are.

  • Nik Grape | March 19, 2012 1:37 PMReply

    I like that they are trying something different here, and not concentrating on the awkwardness and laughs as much but a certain kind of pathos for the character of Wawrick. It was there for Brent and Millman too, but not as much.

    Liam Neeson's turn in the first episode still stands as the highlight and is easily the best thing Gervais has done since The Extras.

    But the show has enough life in it to make me anticipate the second season. I'd disagree about the accountant and Cheryl. I find Cheryl to be exhaustingly simple minded to the point of complete mimickry and the accountant to be over the top but still pretty funny. His attempt to chat up Cat Dealy was the highlight of that whole episode. So I hope for a little less Cheryl next season, and as long as they keep the accountant on a long enough leash, that's fine.

  • jc | March 19, 2012 12:28 PMReply

    I found this show to be rather awful compared to the others as well. I wanted it to be good but it just didn't do anything for me. I would much rather watch An Idiot Abroad which didn't even get mentioned in this article than Life's Too Short.

  • Christopher Gipson | March 18, 2012 9:27 PMReply

    I thought Life's Too Short was pretty good. Like I keep telling everyone, the shows usually get better during the second series. This happened with The Office, Extras and I see that happening here.

  • gonad | March 18, 2012 7:57 PMReply

    The Office, great. Extras, good. Life's Too Short, bad.

  • Noah R. | March 18, 2012 3:30 PMReply

    It's The Office and Extras put in a blender. You can see every joke coming from a mile away. It's awful, lazy, unfunny writing. Only the Liam Neeson/Johnny Depp scenes are any good. Ricky Gervais gets worse and more pompous as time goes on.

  • BEF | March 18, 2012 1:18 PMReply

    Can I please be hired as a proofreader? I've done it professionally. I don't pose this query as a belittling comment: I love The Playlist. I understand posts are fast -- but even the headline, guys -- isn't proper. Feel free to contact me, and although I am on the west coast, I wake up very early. :)

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