HBO’s “Life’s Too Short” is another mockumentary style show from Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant. It follows Warwick Davis, star of “Willow” and is in the “Harry Potter” films, as he attempts to jump start his acting career again. At the same time, he runs a business in which he employs dwarves for hire for various gigs when needed. He has regular meetings with Merchant and Gervais (playing themselves) at their office, although they seem more bothered with him than anything else. Throughout the course of the season he deals with finding work, going through a divorce, working on a committee for dwarves, getting back into dating again and fervently trying to make new connections with other actors. The main plot revolves around him trying to drum up enough work to pay off his £250,000 tax bill brought upon by his bumbling accountant.
Warwick Davis as himself is fantastic in the self deprecating role. He has a great knack for keeping a straight face during the most ridiculous of scenarios, whether he’s dressed up in a small bear costume posing as an ewok at a Star Wars wedding or reciting his lines as a stand in for a child to an actress from the inside of the trash receptacle because she can’t to look at him, he is fully invested and plays it hilariously straight. Warwick is deluded about his past and current fame. He is continually shocked when no one he meets has heard of him and he conveys it perfectly with his facial expressions. There are a lot of unfortunate mishaps almost always due to his stature and delusions of grandeur. By the third episode you get that every possibility of a job turns to rubbish and will end in crushingly humiliating fashion for him. Warwick is perpetually name dropping to make it seem like he’s important. He’s good at selling it. Using normal language and spinning it into something show biz like. Ex: sting sends him an invitation to a charity event saying a stock sentence like ‘he’d be delighted if he could attend’. Warwick says “he would love to be able to delight someone like Sting.”
Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant have the other reoccurring roles, playing themselves in a realistic fashion. They do not get much screen time but appear in each episode. They are visited by Warwick frequently as they seem to be his last big connections to a possible television and film career. Ricky uses this as a platform to actually make fun of the television and film business as well. Using scenes showing the business as a nonstop hassle for people like him who produce and direct many things. He takes jabs at things like being expected to do charities whenever anyone asks because he doesn’t want to come off as a sod for saying no. He even takes jabs at his own work, giving dialogue to the celebrity guests questioning the quality of his shows. Calling it an acquired taste that relies too heavily on celebrity cameos to make it successful. And much of the humor of comes from the celebrity guests in each episode, such as Liam Neeson, Helena Bonham Carter, Steve Carrel, Sting and especially Johnny Depp who has an amazing bit in episode 2, perhaps the funniest of them all.
The show does push the envelope of bad taste. Laughing at what unfolds onscreen will depend on what you personally find funny. I could see people being turned off by the way Warwick is treated both in the dialogue and as a physical prop. There is a tremendous amount of physical comedy that is derived directly from him being a dwarf. The most off-putting character for most might be his accountant/lawyer who outright makes fun at his stature, like laughing when he can’t reach across a table to get a piece of paper and continually using the derogatory term “midget” in his presence. Having said that, there are some gut-busting, laugh out loud moments throughout the season. Myself, I didn’t always feel good about laughing but it’s hard to deny the fantastic execution of those moments. I also imagine that Warwick himself is entirely onboard for everything he goes through (It’s readily apparent in the extra features that he is). Even though a lot of jokes that play out due to him being a dwarf, a lot of humor is derived from him lying and being greedy which happen to get him into bad situations in the first place.
After all that, there is a warm heart underneath the hood. Even though Warwick suffers indignity after indignity, the spirit of the show remains hopefully optimistic throughout. Davis never seems to get down from any of the speed bumps in his life. Even when he seemingly has lost everything he pushes on, always willing to smile, forever looking toward the hopeful future. There is a love interest in the last half of the season that offers him hope and a chance at happiness even when everything has fallen apart.
The DVD quality is nothing too exceptional however since the show is going for a realistic documentary feel, it is not a huge detriment to the overall look of the show. Colors are rather drab, even for foggy Londontown. There is some nice sharpness throughout as it was filmed with an HD source. The DVD has a perfectly serviceable look for what the show is.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack mostly sounds like it is in stereo at first. However the soundstage opens up nicely in outdoors city scenes and in scenes with large crowds. These occur at least once an episode. Dialogue is always easy to hear and never an issue. There is virtually no low end to speak of but the show doesn’t need it. There is also a French 5.1 and a Spanish 2.0 track.
There are several small extras that show some minor behind the scenes moments. There are 10 of them that off a glimpse into each episode. There is also a “Making of Life’s Too Short” feature that goes in depth into the idea behind the show. There are also several deleted scenes and outtakes that most likely would not have added anything better to the show.
“Life’s Too Short” is mostly a success as it is constantly funny and Davis plays the part perfectly. At times it can delve into some crass areas however it is still never completely overboard. It does at times feel like “The Office: Part 2” but that is not necessarily a bad thing. The show is loaded with terrific celebrity guest appearances that are staple is most of Ricky Gervais’s work. The audio/video is perfectly fine for a S-DVD release. There are sparse but fairly decent extras. Recommended on the strength of the comedy alone.