Warwick Davis and Ricky Gervais bring the squirm in Life's Too Short
With roles in such successful films as Return of the Jedi, Willow, and the Harry Potter series, 3’6” Warwick Davis made a thirty-year career out of being Britain’s self-proclaimed “go-to-dwarf”.
Presently, however, he’s out-of-work, owing £250,000 in back taxes, and in the middle of a messy divorce. At least, that’s where we find him in the new HBO comedy series Life’s Too Short, which premieres February 19th.
In the show, a faux-documentary created and written by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant (The Office, Extras), Davis plays an over-the-top version of himself: pompous while clueless, a character not unlike Michael Scott/David Brent from The Office.
As the camera follows Davis around, we see him bickering with his estranged wife Sue (Jo Enright), hawking autographs, attempting to keep a failing talent agency (“Dwarves For Hire”) afloat, and trying to hustle up some film work for himself.
While the proceedings are anything but politically correct, the show doesn’t concentrate on Davis’ stature. There’s the occasional visual gag of him falling out of his monstrous SUV (a play on his vanity, rather than his size), or his difficulties with a world designed for taller people, but the show first and foremost is about Davis’ hubris, and the problems it brings about.
While this allows for plenty of comedy—some of it hilarious—there’s no new ground broken here. In fact, Life’s Too Short isn’t much more than a cross between The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm, with a bit of Extras thrown in.
But it’s well-done and funny in a cringe-inducing way, as discomfiting as it is amusing. And Davis is completely charming and likeable in spite of his character’s multitude of flaws. He’s not just a good actor, he’s skilled comedian and a master of physical comedy.
Davis also serves as a great foil for the entire supporting cast: Cheryl, the secretary with her head in the clouds (Rosamund Hanson); Eric, the almost criminally-incompetent accountant (Steve Brody); and of course, Gervais and Merchant themselves, whose office Davis frequents scrounging for work, much to their disdain.
And, as in Extras, there are celebrity guest stars: a truly hilarious Liam Neeson in the premiere, with Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Steve Carell, Sting, and others in subsequent episodes.
Not everything works—the segment with Depp in the second episode meanders and is disappointingly tame—but when the show clicks, it really clicks. Davis’ visit to a Star Wars-themed wedding is comedy gold, both verbally and visually. And then there’s the audition reel Davis puts together for his talent agency, featuring re-enactments of Brokeback Mountain and the interrogation scene in Basic Instinct.
Like much of Warwick Davis’ fictional TV life, it’s horribly uncomfortable, but also hilarious.
Life's Too Short premieres on HBO, on Sunday (February 19)