There’s something very British about the British love for Ricky Gervais. A smugness that he’s one of ours, a knowing nod when he insults the Americans at award shows because they’re not as liberal as us (see also: Russell Brand), a desire to shout out that we knew him first before the rest of the world got their hands on him.
The Office is one of my favourite sitcoms/tv comedies. It makes sense. It’s real. It’s very very funny. And it bears up on repeat viewings. The Xfm podcasts with Gervais, Merchant and Pikington were also very very funny at the beginning. Extras was ok. I wouldn’t buy the DVD. Gervais was ok in the recent episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. The Invention of Lying was terrible. Cemetery Junction was boring. An Idiot Abroad was also boring. So why this continued affection for Gervais and good will for his new series Life’s Too Short? Well, unfortunately, I think the good will has evaporated now, and I will no longer look forward to Gervais/Merchant productions.
I watched Ricky Gervais on The Graham Norton Show last week and he explained that Life’s Too Short, the mockumentary about Warwick Davis, short man and star of Willow, was different from the mockumentary style of The Office, which was a pastiche of shows at the time like Driving School or Airport, and a more contemporary riff of ITV2 reality shows (think Katie and Peter, and various iterations of those). The publicity for the series, and the trailer at the end of the first episode, is also very very keen to point out that many famous people are making cameos: Liam Neeson, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter etc, along the lines of Extras.
We knew what to expect then. Short jokes and these celebrities pretending to be idiots, perverts or megalomaniacs. But, unfortunately, the first episode didn’t work for me. Warwick Davis appeared to be playing Ricky Gervais, with the same intonations and style of talking to camera as David Brent. If this was to be a more uptodate mockumentary, the star would not talk to camera so often and there would be a narrator, think Fearne Cotton or Michael Buerk for Pineapple Studios – there could have been so much mileage out of using a straight-faced narrator for this series. Instead, we had unrealistic scenes where Warwick encounters his estranged wife and she talks to camera about their separation – in real or mock life, she would not be so open to camera. Or a stupid interview for a girl, which I admit was mildly amusing. But why does “Warwick Davis” keep such a stupid accountant who is losing him money – doesn’t make sense at all. The passer-by who questioned who Warwick Davis was when he asked for help in pushing a buzzer was also just a bad actor or given bad lines. And when you start questioning concepts and characters, it takes you out of the comedy.
The best scenes are with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant in their office talking to Warwick Davis and I assume other celebrities in the future. From the scenes in this first episode, I would much prefer a show along these lines where celebrities just come and do sketches in front of Gervais and Merchant. It would be more honest. The Liam Neeson scene was hilarious, I admit. He has come to them for help with comedy ideas, as he would like to branch out, and his attempts at improv are disastrous, claiming he has ‘full-blown AIDS’ in Gervais’ Doctor’s office.
I’m sure the rest of the series will have very funny bits in it, like the Liam Neeson scene, but I don’t think it’s going to be must-watch tv. I know there are things about it that are going to annoy me. Maybe the Yanks will like it better – after all Ricky Gervais is one of theirs now.