Life's Too Short - season 1 episode1
Ricky and Stephen's third sitcom. Prepare for deja-vu...
Air date: UK, 10 November, 2011, BBC Two
The UK's love affair with Ricky Gervais has always been conducted on a knife edge.
But Gervais's recent Twitter spat over his use of the word "mong" has been a very public hiccup. And that it coincides with the launch of Life's Too Short, his self-vaunted third sitcom, may combine to cripple his share price.
It's a classic trap of the successful artist, when their life becomes so divorced from how most people live theirs that all they can moan about are the awful trappings of fame. You'd have thought two seasons of Extras would have gotten all that celebrity-worshipping and fame-berating out of Gervais and Stephen Merchant's systems. Obviously not.
The problem with Life's Too Short is that every inch of its terrain and style is familiar. The obsession with real-life celebrities is there from Extras (Liam Neeson turns up in this one, with Johnny Depp, Sting and Steve Carrell all lined up for future spit and coughs), as is the fascination with the snobbery and vanity of the fame game.
Even Shaun Williamson pops up, once again written as a down-at-heel actor whose celebrity fall has resulted in him doing the dry cleaning for Gervais and Merchant. Haven't we been here before?
Then there's the documentary style filming, cribbed from The Office, complete with talking head shots and voice-over and sly looks to camera. It's a greatest hits package of the Gervais/Merchant brand, so much so that even the rhythms of their dialogue are beginning to show. Like when Woody Allen casts another actor in his traditional role, you can still hear Woody, you can detect Gervais's vocal beats in Davis' every utterance.
Gervais' comedy has a peculiar mix of sentimentality and brutality. For all the celebrated warmth of The Office, there are also niggling accusations of bullying elsewhere in the ouevre. It's there in his and Merchant's sometimes uneasy badgering of Karl Pilkington, and it's here in Life's Too Short as well.
Davis may be laughing along, but he's asked to do some things in this sitcom which are purely about guffawing at a small man and what he can't do.It's an open question as to how much of an Uncle Tom Davis is being here.
Life's Too Short started life as a different kind of show, with a pilot that was rejected by its makers as being "too quaint". Maybe that series might have felt like more a third way for its writers' third sitcom. As it is, it feels like they're relying too much on former glories, but forgetting about heart along the way.
See the Life's Too Short trailer here:
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