Life’s Too Short

NICK MORRISON wonders why Warwick Davis, having single-handedly brought down Vader, can’t carry his own sitcom.

dwarves extras life's too short nick morrison Ricky Gervais steven merchant The Office TV warwick davis

Life’s Too Short has all the right ingredients to be absolutely brilliant: it’s conceived and scripted by two of the country’s best comedy writers, Steven Merchant and Ricky Gervais; it’s stuffed with guest stars like Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Liam Neeson; and it’s set in a dwarf talent agency. This should have been the funniest thing in the history of man. But it wasn’t.

It’s hard to pin down exactly what’s missing from BBC2’s new sitcommentary, apart from laughs. The premise is bizarre but fertile for comedy: Warwick Davis stars as himself, a down-on-his-luck actor who just happens to be 3ft 6in. Merchant and Gervais also feature as themselves, influential friends of Davis through whom he tries to find work.

“Listen to me, or I’ll take 50 points from Ravenclaw!”

Unfortunately, nothing hilarious comes of this set-up. We get a look at the erstwhile Ewok’s unhappy home life (zero laughs), his non-existent career (zero laughs) and the perils of being shorter than the wall outside Derren Brown’s house (one laugh, imagining him clambering over said wall). Maybe Mer-vais thought they were being superior by avoiding the ‘obvious’ jokes but to centre a sitcom around a dwarf and then only reference it once or twice seems a bit dopey.

Things only looked up when Liam Neeson made a cameo appearance seeking guidance on his stand-up set from the two writers. The thinking man’s James Nesbitt gamely sent himself up, his completely straight delivery providing more fun than the rest of the episode put together.

The problem here is that if the best humour is going to come from celebs parodying themselves, we’ve just got Extras all over again. These guest spots can be inserted into an episode without bearing any relation at all to the plot or Davis as an easy way to get some laughs. What’s more, these standout performances will only draw attention to the main issue with the show: the acting.

With the exception of Ricky and Steve themselves, not one of the actors (Davis included) seemed able to deliver the dialogue believably. The Office worked because the acting was flawless from all concerned – it could have been a real documentary. Life’s Too Short just doesn’t have this talent, and suffers accordingly.

That’s not to say I don’t expect the series to pick up: the first episode of a sitcom is more about establishing characters and plotlines than anything else, and with the foundations in place, the preview of the rest of the series does look genuinely good. All we need is a cameo from a certain Pilkingbod and we could have a smash.