The premiere may have split opinion, but I was prepared to give Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant some benefit of the doubt with Life's Too Short. Last week's episode was rescued by a handful of scenes (notably a sublime guest appearance by Liam Neeson as the world's least capable improv comedian), but there were worrying signs in almost every corner. Sadly, episode 2 was exactly the sort of misjudged nonsense I hoped this show would avoid.
In the run-up to Life's Too Short's release, Gervais and Merchant have been very careful to assure people that the show isn't being nasty about "little people", but this episode was very close to the bone. Okay, so Johnny Depp (playing himself as a resentful, irrational, malicious actor) may have been the one making Warwick Davis dance an Irish jig or sit inside a toilet, while making fun of his appearance ("a grub coming out of an apple"), but it was still uncomfortable to watch. So-called cringe-comedy is something that The Office excelled at, but this just felt like meanness-by-proxy. A way for Gervais and Merchant to ridicule a disabled person with the excuse that it's not them being nasty it's an evil version of Depp. Considering the fact Life's Too Short is all about a version of Warwick Davis living his life "like an open wound" for a fly-on-the-wall documentary, I find it rather sad that the real Warwick has basically done a similar thing in allowing Gervais/Merchant to find endless ways to belittle dwarves (no pun intended)—safe behind the excuse that Warwick's just encountering awful people who see dwarves as freakish.
The best moments of episode 2 were when the jokes weren't about Warwick's size—at a sci-fi convention trying to sell an autograph to a fan with a brain tumour for £25, or having a chat with his brainless assistant Cheryl (Rosamund Hanson). And just like last week, the highlight was another four-way encounter with this bizarro version of Johnny Depp; who came to Gervais' office to get revenge for the jokes slung his way at the Golden Globes. Oh yes, Ricky Gervais' controversial hosting of last year's Golden Globes. I'm bored to tears by that. While it was admittedly raw material for a ceremony that's so prestigious and toadying, Gervais' jokes weren't especially brilliant or incisive. Maybe in America they shocked people (as it's a nation where celebrity is effectively royalty), but from a British perspective it wasn't much to write home about.
Depp's role in this episode was also curious. He wasn't an exaggerated version of what Depp's persona is, he was the antithesis of all that. So it was practically another character calling himself Johnny Depp, and that didn't work so well for me. Liam Neeson was so brilliant because he's seen as being very serious and solemn, so the idea of him wanting to become a comedian was hilarious in itself. Seeing a celebrity play up to people's perception of them is funny, but giving us a contrasting version of a widespread perception is less amusing. Maybe if Depp was someone you'd think would be incapable of rudeness and weirdness, it could have worked (as it did for Kate Winslet on Extras), but he's really not.
Still, it wasn't all bad. Warwick's still a surprisingly engaging person, if sadly trapped in a show where he's upstaged by its creators (who swoop in with their Comic Relief-style celebrity sketches); I love Rosamund Hanson as Cheryl the dopey P.A, with her diamond shaped face, gigantic eyes and gormless expressions; and a post-credits scene with Shaun Williams was so funny it made me miss Extras. But Warwick dressed as a budget-version Ewok for a Star Wars nerd's themed wedding? I thought this show would be above that sort of thing.
- It seems audiences aren't so keen on this show. This episode lost a million viewers from last week, down to 1.5m (6% of the audience). Its lead-in Rev managed 1.7m, a similar drop from 2.4m last week, so maybe it's a sign people have decided Thursday comedy at 9pm isn't for them and they'll catch-up on iPlayer?