For what it's worth, I thought this was the best episode of Life's Too Short so far. It's no coincidence it was the first to forego starry cameo's (even Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant didn't appear), so the story could instead focus on Warwick Davis' life. In so doing, this felt more like the fly-on-the-wall documentary about an egomaniac dwarf actor I've been expecting, although it's still a problem that many of the jokes are signposted and the show's style and targets feel oddly outdated. At one random moment I remembered that Gervais' favourite stand-up comedian, Louis C.K, is currently pushing the envelope with his self-titled, low-budget cable sitcom across the pond. It feels like Gervais may have opened the floodgates for a type of quasi-realistic comedy-of-embarrassment, but he's getting left behind now as fresher, braver comedians surpass him.
There was a lot of very tired humour in this episode, which is an unforgivable fact given Gervais and Merchant's stature in the industry. You just don't expect Gervais/Merchant to be peddling sitcom standards like a fraudulent psychic, "rapist" and "racist" wordplay, or characters like a stupid dating agency employee. Warwick Davis continues to give a good performance, but it's still too much of a David Brent impersonation. The way he ties himself in verbal knots, or makes a social faux pas that gets worse the more he tries to rescue the situation, is all extremely reminiscent of Ricky Gervais' shtick.
However, it was a relief to have an episode that remembered Warwick Davis is supposed to be the star of the show. For a full half-hour, he was front-and-centre, with no scene-stealing Hollywood guest-star to be seen. And this week's story, ignoring all the silly flourishes early on, wasn't half bad. It was actually a fairly decent insight into this fictional Warwick's mind, as he went on a date with a perfectly pleasant and pretty woman called Amy, but couldn't stand the fact she's a dwarf because it could mean "normal-sized" people would see them together and think pitifully of what he's had to "make do with". He'd much rather chase the fantasy of dating a six foot blonde stunner. This was the first time it felt like we were starting to see something interesting about Warwick's personality on the show. His self-loathing, masked by bravado. Seeing him sabotage the chance of a happy relationship with a nice woman was the first time I felt both angry and saddened for Warwick as a person. And that’s great, because I felt something.
Overall, episode 5 still wasn't good enough to have me optimistic Life's Too Short is turning things around, but it made a few improvements. I just wish they felt designed to be improvements, but it's more likely this was a happy accident. The quality of writing is still letting the show down. This episode touched on religion, paedophile priests, fake psychics, and Scientology... all incredibly juicy topics you'd imagine would be fantastic springboards for Gervais and Merchant's writing, but all the jokes that sprang forth were feeble and predictable.
written & directed by Ricky Gervais / 8 December 2011 / BBC Two