When Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant pooled their talents for their second show, “Extras,” after the critical and commercial success of “The Office,” it unleashed a unique vibe. “The Office” centered around David Brent, a man deluded into believing he was well-loved and important, all amid the day-to-day drudgery of an office job. “Extras” was the opposite: two struggling and relatively normal actors working with a nonstop assortment of giant egos. And their latest work, “Life’s Too Short,” seemed to be funny from all the previews I’ve seen.
It is indeed funny. It follows the fictional exploits of dwarf actor Warwick Davis, who plays himself, as he attempts to mount some sort of a comeback. The problem is that Gervais and Merchant have done this show before. Davis, in playing the exaggeration of himself (typical of celebrities within the Gervais-Merchant canon), is the exact same giant egotistical, flawed character that we’ve seen before from the pair. He’s David Brent of “The Office” to a tee.
Of course Davis is still funny on the show, as shown by his quiet and condescending remarks about his wife. He explains that she had to lose a lot of weight to fit into her wedding dress, once worn by her deceased mother. The weight loss was “not as much as I would’ve liked, but enough to squeeze into her dead mum’s dress,” according to Davis.
We soon discover she is divorcing him, something she reveals to the documentary crew as she tries to get Davis to leave. He plays it cool, trying to ignore it and pretending it’s what he secretly wants: “Why would a film star marry her when he could’ve had the leggy blondes or the ‘page three’ girls,” Davis says.
But no matter how Davis comes off on a comedic level, Gervais and Merchant come off even better as his supposed “friends,” who are surprised every time Warwick manages to get into their building despite their attempt to place the intercom out of his reach.
And in one of the episode’s final scenes, when celebrity guest Liam Neeson expresses his desire to perform comedy — not a particular comedy film, but “life comedy,” as he calls it — it becomes clear that Davis is the weak link on the show.
Gervais and Merchant, along with whichever celebrity they happen to get for an episode, seem to make the show. They are the characters who tell the memorable jokes, the ones people will quote after each episode. That’s problematic for a show called “Life’s Too Short,” which is supposed to center around the struggles of Davis, not the other characters.
The audience is with Davis at all times in the episode. And for most of those moments, I’m wishing I was elsewhere.
Watch it: 10:30 p.m. Sundays on HBO.