There was a time not too long ago when, if you squinted just right, Ricky Gervais might have seemed like the best comedian alive. The Office is one of the great sitcoms of our time, Extras was funny enough for an encore, and Gervais spent just enough time in the spotlight with stand-up specials of consistently high quality not to wear out his welcome. Louis CK hadn’t yet cemented his position as The Great Stand-Up Of Our Time, the Chris Rock generation was beginning their decline, and a lot of today’s young stand-ups were still mired in obscurity. Gervais was our boy.
The descent began slowly, almost imperceptibly, but picked up speed over the last 18 months. He was the most annoying aspect of HBO’s gathering of Rock, CK, Seinfeld and ol’ Ricky for a chat about comedy. His awards-show hosting appearances quickly devolved from a welcome, sardonic change of pace to “aren’t I naughty?” posturing. His Twitter feed became insufferable. He took pictures like this:
…and managed to do for atheism what Fred Phelps does for Christianity. His “relationship” with and reliance on mascot Karl Pilkington shifted from amusing to insufferable. Gervais’s golden touch was gone, but at least we always had The Office and Extras to fall back on. His sitcom genius remained indisputable.
…and now he’s gone and made a terrible sitcom.
Life’s Too Short premiered on HBO Sunday, and tells the tale of Warwick Davis (Willow from Willow) in Gervais’s now-familiar mockumentary format.
Davis himself is fine, and the pilot wasn’t entirely without LAFFS, but there are two fatal flaws with the series:
1) Davis’s character (a version of himself named Warwick Davis) is basically a shorter version of David Brent. He’s pretentious, an egotist, and totally unaware of what people really think about him. There’s nothing new here at all. It’s a pale Office retread, but set in a quasi-Hollywood arena like Extras. Other than vocation, there is not one difference between Davis and Brent. Meanwhile, Gervais and Merchant also play versions of themselves so they can roll their eyes at Davis’s lack of awareness. This is more of a rip-off of The Office than the American version of The Office, even though the pilot for the latter was almost a word-for-word repeat.
2) So it’s The Office with a dwarf…which means lots of dwarf jokes! Look, there’s Davis falling down trying to get out of a car! Now he can’t reach a doorbell! Ha ha ha ha ha! Silly dwarf! So short! There’s no doubt a sense that mocking dwarfs in this setting is OK because Davis is in on the joke, but Life’s Too Short leaves a queasy, dispiriting aftertaste. And leaving aside the questionable taste of these jokes, and whether or not they’re offensive, the bottom line is that the show features a lot of slapstick, which isn’t funny regardless of the political correctness involved. I can’t wait for the next episode, when Davis gets a pie in the face.
To sum up: maybe it’s time for Ricky Gervais to go away for a while and dream it all up again, U2-style after Rattle & Hum. Just go get a cabin in the woods and figure out how to stop being so terrible. Maybe make your peace with God?