The boys are back and in full comedic form. The latest TV series to come from the collective mind of the Gervais/Merchant partnership, Life’s Too Short, debuted this past Sunday on HBO. The faux documentary stars Warwick Davis as himself, or rather, a fictional version of himself whose wife is leaving him, whose career has stalled out and whose accountant is royally screwing him. And he has an ego the size of Montana, which is over-inflated to compensate for his extreme insecurity.
Sound at all familiar? Of course it does. Davis’s fictional alter ego is reminiscent of David Brent and the buffoon Andy Millman became after briefly achieving success. His accountant is pretty much the same as Darren, Stephen Merchant’s character in Extras except he’s an accountant rather than a talent agent. Each episode features a guest star in the form of an A-lister playing an outlandish version of him/herself just as every episode of Extras did. The thing is, though, at least during this first episode, none of it (with the exception of the incompetent accountant) felt old or played out. There are enough differences that Davis’s character feels original and those tactics we’ve come to expect of our two favorite British writers do not fail to entertain.
Davis gives an engaging performance and guest star Liam Neeson shines in his short but hilarious cameo. I think it’s common for comedians, hell for writers and directors of all kinds, to do multiple projects with similar themes. Clint Eastwood sticks to tragic tales, Sophia Coppola does stories about disaffected young women, Nora Ephron writes romantic comedies, you get the picture. This kind of dry, ironic comedy centering on an egomaniacal/pathologically insecure character is the signature shtick of Gervais and Merchant. I think there are enough differences in their projects that they aren’t just regurgitated versions of the same story. Oh yeah, and Cemetery Junction was entirely different.
If you enjoyed The Office (U.K.) or Extras or the jokes Ricky gave at last year’s Golden Globes (do not go by this year’s performance, it was uncharacteristically tame), watch the premiere of Life’s Too Short. You won’t regret it. I didn’t.