It’s not easy to know what to expect when you check in with Life’s Too Short from week to week. At times, it’s as if there are several shows within the show struggling to find their way to the screen. In the fifth episode, those shows are:
- A twisted slice-of-life comedy starring Warwick Davis: That’s the show we see in the most effective segment of tonight’s episode, where Warwick suffers several indignities during a trip to the grocery store.
- A faux-journalism series in the vein of Da Ali G Show: This is a new one, as the fifth episode of the series introduces us to the device of Warwick conducting interviews for the “documentary” cameras, sitting down here with a Catholic priest and a Scientology spokesman. This approach wouldn’t be any more appealing that what’s already up on the screen, but Davis does a solid job as the curious interviewer with a dubious line of questions.
- A mockumentary about a celebrity (not necessarily Warwick Davis) mounting a comeback: Of course, HBO already produced and aired that show in the mid-’00s; it was even called The Comeback. But it’s hard to say if any of the showbiz material within Life’s Too Short needs Warwick Davis to function. For instance, the life-coach segment that opens tonight’s half-hour could have any gullible fallen star at its center. It could feature any easily misled television character, in fact—there’s a frustrating generality to the proceedings, to the point that the scene eventually stops being about Warwick and shifts its focus to his spiritual advisor/life coach, Bryan.
This all makes for scattershot viewing, leaving the same impression as the Johnny Depp episode: Five episodes in, Life’s Too Short hasn’t decided what the show is and to whom it belongs.
The show’s schizophrenic nature traces back to its characterization of Warwick. Davis does a commendable job at giving his character personality and pop, but none of that spark is reciprocated in the way Life’s Too Short’s protagonist is written. He’s a vaguely defined asshole, someone who’s self-aware enough to realize he’s being caught on camera insinuating a date has male genitalia—yet oblivious enough to ruin his second date with that woman by wondering aloud about his romantic prospects with another woman seated across the restaurant. Because these qualities aren’t unique to the character, the punchlines they prompt lack freshness and precision. Warwick’s less a character and more a comedic type—one who’s picked up precious little shading over the course of five episodes. In that regard, it’s for the best that the show doesn’t stick to the “life of Warwick” material exclusively. When it comes to character development, a series with a short episode order like Life’s To Short is at a disadvantage when compared to comedies that have upwards of 22 installments to figure out their characters. Warwick should’ve arrived fully formed in the pilot, but with only two more episodes to go in the first season, the character has more to discover about himself than his spiritual beliefs.
Lack of specificity aside, there are some well-constructed laughs in tonight’s episode, moments of misunderstanding and hole-digging that showcase Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant as rightful heirs to the uncomfortable thrones previously held by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld. Warwick’s argument with Amy over whether or not her dating-service headshot is misleading is especially Seinfeld-esque—it could only be more so if Warwick coined an on-the-spot neologism for the practice of making little people appear taller through photography. And even though a disastrous attempt at flirting, with Eric as his wingman, goes to the swiftly drying well of Gervais-Merchant rape humor, Warwick overcompensates to a hysterical degree—Eric meant to say Warwick was a racist, not a rapist—and ends up with additional egg on his face.
But those laughs hardly matter when there’s so little within Life’s Too Short on which to hang them. The revolving door of characters who come into Warwick’s orbit isn’t adding any dimension to our protagonist: The relationships he’s formed with Eric or Cheryl or Sue or even Ricky and Stephen (there was no word from the last four of those characters tonight) are too frequently shoved aside for one-off interactions with the likes of Bryan or Jonathan Rhodes’ maître d’. I might be alone in this, but the way background characters flit in and out of this fifth episode, it’s as if Gervais and Merchant were going for the feel of a sketch-comedy show, rather than a traditional narrative sitcom. That approach would definitely make the inclusion of the interview segments about Catholicism and Scientology less jarring. They’re tied into the episode thematically, but nonetheless disrupt the ostensible main arc of Warwick picking up the pieces of his life. As presented in the fifth episode, these scenes look and feel like extensions of a concept for Life’s Too Short that never made it beyond a rough draft. Unfortunately, the series itself still feels like it would benefit from additional revisions.
- This is an opinion based solely on British sitcoms, but the types of bars and nightclubs that turn up on these shows make them look like the worst, most depressing places on Earth. Even when they’re presented as a place where people have legitimate, non-soul-scarring fun—like the bar Tim and Daisy end up at in Spaced’s “Help”—there’s always the chance that you’ll end up encountering some finger-gun-toting ruffian in the bathroom.