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August 27, 2014

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TV review: ‘Life’s Too Short’

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Stephen Merchant, left, Warwick Davis and Ricky Gervais are giving the ‘Extras’ thing another shot with Gervais’ most recent HBO project, ‘Life’s Too Short’.

The Details

Life's Too Short
Two and a half stars
Sundays, 10:30 p.m., HBO

When Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant created the original British version of The Office in 2001, they found humor in the small-scale struggles of everyday folks, and the way that people with a tiny amount of power take themselves way too seriously. Since then, the duo have become big stars (Gervais more so than Merchant), and their immersion in Hollywood seems to have made them unable to satirize anything except celebrity culture. Like Extras, Gervais and Merchant’s last series, the new Life’s Too Short takes place in the entertainment industry and makes its jokes about the oblivious, self-centered lives of famous (or semi-famous) people.

The main difference this time is that Gervais and Merchant are merely supporting players, making glorified cameos in each episode, while veteran little-person character actor Warwick Davis is the star. Davis is affable and amusing, but he’s not quite the comedic revelation that Gervais and Merchant made him out to be in their advance publicity for the show. Davis plays a fictionalized version of himself, a working actor whose roles often come either under heavy makeup and costumes (he played Wicket the Ewok in Return of the Jedi and the title role in the Leprechaun series) or in low-budget B-movies. The show’s Davis is also a rather ineffectual talent agent for other little-person actors, and is trying to jump-start his career after learning that he owes a massive amount of money in back taxes.

The fictional Davis is a familiar Gervais/Merchant character, the buffoon who thinks he’s an important genius despite all evidence to the contrary. But the likable Davis doesn’t inhabit that character as effectively as Gervais has on the duo’s other shows, so the character’s repeated failures and humiliations are less amusing. Like Extras, Short features celebrity guest appearances in each episode, and in two out of the first three episodes, the celebrities end up interacting with Gervais and Merchant while Davis essentially sits on the sidelines. It’s never a good sign when the ostensible star turns out to be inessential to his own show, and like Davis, Short is charming enough but mostly superfluous.

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