While Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant have been rightly celebrated for creating some of the best, most observant comedy of the last few years in "The Office" and "Extras," the success and brilliance of those shows have been possible due to their willingness to eviscerate the main characters. David Brent and Andy Millman both have their ego and hubris splashed heavily with buckets of cold water throughout both series. What has made both of those shows rise beyond their seeming sitcom trappings, has been the greater character truths that arrive as their grand ambitions face hard and harsh reality.
After the end of season one's first three episodes (review here) of "Life's Too Short," we last see Warwick Davis standing in a garbage pail, acting as a stand-in opposite a very picky Helena Bonham Carter as she shoots a period movie. It's a riotously funny moment, but in many ways that scene marks the end of the show's more whimsical opening episodes. Favoring comedy over pathos, those first shows of "Life's Too Short" fit an established format that found the fictionalized Warwick Davis struggling to find work, managing a divorce and routinely visiting Ricky Geravis and Stephen Merchant to solicit them for jobs and advice, only to bump into a celebrity along the way. But a marked shift begins to happen in the remaining four episodes of the series.
This immediately becomes clear in the fourth episode, aired last week. First up, it delivers the last celebrity cameo that takes place in the offices of Gervais and Merchant (from a nicely deadpan Steve Carell), but more importantly we get the first true indication of how truly deluded Warwick is. We see him enter the race to win the chairman's seat in the People Of Short Stature advocacy group. In an effort to put his feeble campaign over the top, on the day of the vote he gets Right Said Fred to drop in to give him a last-minute endorsement. Besides being a brilliantly random cameo, from a character perspective, it indicates exactly where Warwick's understanding of cultural relevancy has ended, giving his efforts to find work and fame again an added dimension. It also marks a certain level of arrogance — hinted at before, but that grows into a fuller bloom — that Warwick has towards the public in general, that any person of celebrity or fame, becomes a subject of fawning admiration.
As the show heads into the final three episodes, this vanity — coupled with insecurity — begins to lend the show a much darker and more incisive tone and attitude than it has ever had before, with both funny and dramatic results. What we'll see in the remaining episodes (don't worry, no major spoilers) is Warwick finalizing his divorce and entering the dating game (both of which reveal uglier sides to his onscreen persona), and yes, some cameos that are far more organically ingrained, including a rather brilliant turn from Cat Deeley. Through all of it, Warwick's desperation in almost every part of his life begins to peak, and in typical fashion from the team of Gervais and Merchant, just when it seems the bleakest, the season ends on a well earned and warm note of optimism.
All that said, there is still room for improvement in the show. First up, as the series heads into a second season, one character they should seriously considering dropping is Warwick's hapless accountant played by Steve Brody. The man, who is responsible for causing Warwick's huge tax bill, is unbelievably hired to be his advisor of sorts during the divorce proceedings, and the accountant's boorish, buffoonish behavior (which largely amounts to laughing during inappropriate moments) seems dialed in from a completely different show, and his appearances often grind the momentum to a halt. Conversely, Rosamund Hanson's Cheryl needs to be utilized more. She is a great foil for Warwick, and her effortless cluelessness brings more laughs than Brody's much more cloying antics. She's a character that could smartly be expanded, and we'd love to see that happen.
Fitting the now-established Gervais/Merchant format, "Life's Too Short" runs a total of seven episodes, and that condensed nature allows the duo to concentrate nearly every element of the show and the story it has to tell. Veering much further from the "The Office"/"Extras" template of the first three episodes, "Life's Too Short" truly comes into its own as another singular, winning creation from the team. We'll be ready to see where they go next in season two. [B+]
"Life's Too Short" airs Sundays at 10:30 PM on HBO.