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Gervais show, ‘Life’s Too Short,’ is small-minded

BY ROB HEDELT

THE FREE LANCE-STAR

RICKY Gervais has made a comedy career wringing laughs from awkward moments and critical comments.

But he swings and misses badly with the new HBO short series he’s created for sidekick Warwick Davis. Really—creating a mockumentary about a “dwarf actor,” and calling it “Life’s Too Short?”

You might think that a creative sort like Gervais could create something interesting exploring the way that an actor like Davis has to cope with all sorts of trials and tribulations because of his small stature.

A really crafty comic mind could have fun with the whole issue, but in a way that didn’t demean the show’s central character.

Instead, the creator of “The Office,” with writing partner Stephen Merchant, simply go for the cheap and painfully unfunny laughs, like when Davis can’t reach the button for the door of Gervais’ flat.

Of course, we find out moments later that Gervais and Merchant (playing themselves, the same way Davis is playing a fictional version of himself) installed the buzzer there to keep the actor out of their office.

In this mockumentary, Davis plays a version of himself, a man who is as down on his luck as he could get. His wife has left him, he can’t get work and his “dwarf actors for hire” employment agency isn’t setting the world on fire.

Yes, there are some funny moments here and there, a la Gervais, as people take the ridiculous to the sublime.

Davis, for example, meets with his accountant—who can’t figure out how to operate a calculator and then can’t remember how to calculate percentages.

But too much of the humor is supposed to come at the expense of Davis and his lack of stature. We see him struggle to pack a bag, to reach onto a counter or to get up into a chair.

As part of a character in a comedy, we can laugh at a goofy person because he’s doing something funny. But too often here, Gervais seems to be asking us to laugh at Davis just because his legs and arms are so short. It feels tawdry.

His character is clueless about just how far he’s fallen since acting in “Return of the Jedi,” “Willow” and some of the Harry Potter movies. But it all gets old way too quickly, largely because Davis doesn’t do all that much.

The main diversions, it seems, come when the diminutive actor bumps into famous folks like Liam Neeson, Johnny Depp and Sting.

Indeed, the highlight of the first episode came in the few minutes, when Neeson comes in to get Gervais to help him work on his comedy improv skills.

It turns out to be a rich comedy kernel, because the dramatic actor can’t be anything but serious, bringing up cancer and AIDS in his ad lib.

It’s a funny moment, with Neeson and Gervais playing it for all it’s worth.

The problem: It’s got nothing to do with Davis, and underscores how inferior his segments are. That’s the real root of the problem with the show. Gervais is one of those guys, like Robin Williams or Billy Crystal, who is just naturally funny.

Davis can be funny, but he’s not good enough to build a whole series around—especially when the depth of the humor is one short joke after another, be they spoken or sight gags.

This might have seemed like a great idea on the drawing board. But on screen, it’s Gervais & Co. striking out for the first time in such a big, ummm, small way.

Which is exactly the sort of forced and false humor that makes this show hard to watch.

WANT TO WATCH?

“LIFE’S TOO SHORT”

When: Sunday nights at 10:30

Where: HBO

Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415

rhedelt@freelancestar.com

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/features/2012/02/24/gervais-show-lifes-too-short-is-small-minded/

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