Ricky Gervais is now mostly known in these parts as the exceptionally cheeky host of the Golden Globes, but you may also remember him from a little show called The Office. In the original British version of what is now (thanks to Steve Carrell) an American television institution, Gervais played David Brent, the worst boss in the world. Brent was creepy, self-centered and completely lacking in social graces. He was also one of the funniest characters in the history of TV, and continues to be so.
Following his success on The Office, Brent and writing partner Stephen Merchant went on to create Extras, a show about a struggling actor (Gervais) and his odd encounters in show business. The show was full of great writing and hilarious performances, including Brent, Merchant and Ashley Jensen, but was most successful in its celebrity cameos. Patrick Stewart’s delusional turn is probably my favorite.
Gervais and Merchant’s latest comedic effort is Life’s Too Short, another BBC mockumentary series about a struggling actor–this one starring world-famous sci-fi dwarf, Warwick Davis, who you may remember from such classic films as Return of the Jedi, Willow and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. The show follows Davis as he struggles to get legitimate work as an actor and has encounters with celebrities from Gervais and Merchant (who appear in every episode) to Liam Neeson and Johnny Depp. Sound familiar? Indeed, the structure of the show mirrors Extras in just about every way, while Davis’ version of himself seems like David Brent’s long-lost, vertically-challenged brother.
It’s always disappointing to see a talented filmmaker rehash old material in a same-but-different attempt to stay current, even if said old material was great (see: Ritchie, Guy and Shyamalan, M. Night). For what it’s worth, however, Life’s Too Short is very funny. As Extras did, it gives talented dramatic actors a chance to act like total fools, with hilarious results (check out Neeson’s cameo below for proof), and in Davis, gives us a slightly more likeable, slightly less cringe-inducing version of David Brent. I hope Gervais and Merchant have some more tricks up their sleeves for the future, but for now, I’m happy to laugh along with their new endeavur.