It’s never straightforward knowing when to laugh in Life’s Too Short.
Is it OK to laugh at actor Warwick Davis (Willow, Leprechaun, Star Wars IV: Return of the Jedi, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) as the butt of many jokes about his height, at just 1.07m?
Isn’t it politically incorrect to laugh at him being too short to ring a doorbell, or falling off a chair?
The answer to both is yes, but when it’s done in a wider context, Davis is obviously giving us license to laugh.
In this faux-documentary from Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, the line between ‘laughing at’ and ‘laughing with’ is subtle.
Davis plays a fictionalised version of himself, as an egotistical actor and manager of talent agency Dwarves for Hire (Davis himself runs actors agency Willow Management). But work is thin, there are barely any jobs for himself, let alone anybody else. His personal life is also in disarray with a separation from wife Sue (Jo Enright) and his new office assistant Amy (Rosamund Hanson) proving next to incapable.
In front of the documentary cameras Warwick is keen to put on a positive front, smiling belligerently when anything goes wrong or when the public fails to recognise him.
He also turns to Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant for help, visiting their offices in the hope of getting more work (the three worked together on Extras when Gervais’ character accidentally kicked Davis in the head). But these two, also playing extensions of themselves, aren’t about to cut him any slack. They only embarrass him even more in front of the cameras.
In the first episode Davis is also present when Liam Neeson, yet another sending himself up mercilessly, tells Gervais and Merchant that he wants to try his hand at comedy. Neeson fumbles through an improvisation scene in their office which is dripping in more politically incorrect humour.
Other stars appear in the series including Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham-Carter, Sting, Steve Carrell, Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Cat Deeley.
Gervais and Merchant are only supporting players here, and their mocking, authoritative relationship with Davis is not dissimilar to the one they share with Karl Pilkington in An Idiot Abroad. Here they also leave us wanting more.
Davis is excellent as a vain, jobless performer, handling the slapstick and comic timing with ease. His character tries to gets away with murder because of his size, but the cameras magnify it all to comic effect. He’s probably more socially offensive than anything slung at his size. Yet without a laugh track the viewer is never quite sure whether to cringe with embarrassment or laugh out loud – or both.
Life’s Too Short may not be Gervais’ funniest work, nor everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s one of his more socially-observant works.
Life’s Too Short airs 9:05pm Wednesday on ABC1.
The Making of Life’s Too Short airs 9:30pm Wednesday on ABC2.