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Life's Too Short: The Complete First Season DVD Review

Life's Too Short: The Complete First Season DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Life's Too Short: Season One (2011)
Show & DVD Details

Creators: Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant, Warwick Davis / Executive Producers: Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant / Writers/Directors: Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant

Regular Cast: Warwick Davis (Himself), Ricky Gervais (Himself), Stephen Merchant (Himself)

Recurring Cast Members: Rosamund Hanson (Cheryl Wilkins), Steve Brody (Accountant Eric Biddle), Jo Enright (Sue Davis), Matthew Holness (Ian Walt), Kiruna Stamell (Amy), Jon Key (Anthony Braden), Shaun Williamson (Himself), Les Dennis (Himself), Keith Chegwin (Himself), Pete Bonner (Little Pete/Maximus)

Notable Guest Stars: Liam Neeson (Himself), Javone Prince (Passer By), Johnny Depp (Himself), Lorraine Bruce (Mother), Eric Lampaert (Terry), Tim Key (News Reporter), Eri Jackson (Bride Emma), David Fynn (Groom Nigel), Helena Bonham Carter (Herself), Steve Carell (Himself), Nicola Redmond (Estate Agent), Richard Fairbrass (Himself), Fred Fairbrass (Himself), Colin Hoult (Bryan), Caroline May-Jones (Caroline), Cat Deeley (Herself), Ewan Macintosh (Himself), Sting (Himself), Sophie Ellis-Bextor (Herself)

Running Time: 208 Minutes (7 episodes) / Rating: TV-MA

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen; Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Season 1 Airdates: November 10, 2011 - December 20, 2011
Suggested Retail Price: $29.98 / DVD Release Date: January 15, 2013
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s) / Black Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover

Buy Life's Too Short: The Complete First Season DVD from Amazon.com

The success of the BBC television series "The Office" and its overlong American remake have paved the way for Ricky Gervais to work with some of the biggest talents in the business, including Ben Stiller, Kate Winslet, and Robert De Niro.
That success has also helped Gervais link up with one of showbiz's smallest talents, in terms of height, that is. You may not know him by name or recognize his face, but you almost certainly have experienced Warwick Davis on film.

The 3-foot-6 Davis made his acting debut at age 12, playing Wicket, the cuddliest of Ewoks in Return of the Jedi. After that, he held the title roles in the George Lucas fantasy Willow and in the four successive Leprechaun horror movies. Davis has remained visible (sort of) to a new generation of moviegoers with his roles in the Harry Potter series, the Oscar-winning biopic Ray, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. As far as actors with dwarfism go, the British Davis is about as accomplished as any.

Davis also has a sense of humor about himself, as displayed in his appearance in a 2006 episode of Gervais' esteemed HBO/BBC series "Extras." That guest spot seems to have opened the door of collaboration, leading the way for Davis to star and, with "Office"/"Extras" duo Gervais and Stephen Merchant, create "Life's Too Short", an HBO/BBC comedy series that premiered in November 2011, hits stores this week in the two-disc The Complete First Season DVD, and will return to HBO for an hour-long, series-ending special later this year.

Warwick Davis clings to a bookshelf he climbs to claim a horror movie award he won in "Life's Too Short."

"Life's Too Short" employs the mockumentary format with which Gervais and Merchant first made their mark, as an unseen documentary crew is said to be tagging Davis for unclear reasons. Though that design recalls "The Office", "Life's Too Short" otherwise resembles "Extras" a lot more closely. It again gives us a downtrodden actor hungry for recognition on the fringes of the industry. The fictionalized version of Davis struggles to find work, hoping his thin connection to Gervais and Merchant (playing themselves) can land him some gigs. It doesn't.

Despite fairly yet proudly introducing himself as "the UK's go-to dwarf", this Davis is in a bit of a tail spin. His wife Sue (Jo Enright) is leaving him. He owes $250,000 in back taxes to Inland Revenue due to the oversights of his hapless accountant Eric (Steve Brody). Dwarves for Hire, the agency Davis runs, is a bit of a sham, with his handful of clients,
all aspiring dwarf actors, slowly growing wise to the fact that Davis claims the only real jobs coming his way for his desperate, indebted self. Davis finds his equivalent to platonic "Extras" pal Maggie in Cheryl (Rosamund Hanson), a spacy, unambitious young blonde who becomes his secretary to get her out of the house her mother lets her live rent-free in.

As in "Extras" (and Larry David's interminable HBO staple "Curb Your Enthusiasm"), one of the highlights of this comparably smart, funny series is the inspired use of celebrity guest stars game to send themselves up. The global star power in Gervais' phone directory continues to soar, enabling memorable as-themselves guest appearances made by the likes of Liam Neeson (the series' indisputable apex), Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Steve Carell, and Sting.

For those who have become immersed in Gervais and Merchant's previous series, "Life's Too Short" may seem incredibly familiar. Davis portrays himself as a David Brent-type loser, defensive of his height, in denial of his non-existent fame, and lacking in social graces that could prevent many of the awkward and embarrassing situations in which he finds himself. The supporting characters all have a clear parallel in those featured in "Extras."

Warwick Davis proudly stands next to cardboard standee of his Return of the Jedi Ewok, Wicket, while pointing out George Lucas was wrong to hide his face in the role. Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais form a double act as a version of themselves, successful creators reluctant to help out Warwick Davis.

All this will only disappoint those wanting the creators to turn over a new leaf. Like many makers of British TV (and far too few of their American counterparts), Gervais and Merchant know better than to milk a show past its expiration date. Both "The Office" and "Extras" ran two seasons and a Christmas special, preventing them from losing their luster and becoming stale. That "less is more" model is starkly contrasted by NBC's American version of "The Office", which could only sustain brilliance for so long. Its charm ran out for good when Carell left to pursue a film career and every episode since then has chipped away at its legacy.

Even if "Life's Too Short" may follow Gervais and Merchant's winning playbook very closely, the variations and personnel changes are enough to welcome and retain interest through a short season of seven episodes, which, it recently was announced, will sadly be its only full season. The involvement of Warwick Davis, one of cinema's undersung overachievers, adds considerable appeal. He might not be the comedy lightning rod that Gervais is, but his willingness to make endless fun of himself and his diminutive stature reveals an admirable good nature.

"Life's Too Short" earns its TV-MA rating with profanity, which is used somewhat sparingly for a premium cable production. If you're not accustomed to Gervais and Merchant's prior series, there's a chance you'll be offended by some of the irreverent content, but it's all in good fun, as anyone not dense enough to mistake this for a genuine documentary series will see.

Liam Neeson makes an hilariously unconvincing case for an entry into comedy in the debut episode. Donning a makeshift Ewok costume (an old teddy bear with the stuffing removed), Warwick Davis gives a disastrous toast at a Star Wars-themed wedding.

Disc 1

1. Episode 1 (29:28) (Originally aired November 10, 2011)
Hard up for work, Warwick eventually (and with some difficulties) gets in to see Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. He's there to witness Liam Neeson's painful attempt to break into comedy with some improvisation exercises.

2. Episode 2 (30:06) (Originally aired November 17, 2011)
Warwick endures two contentious episodes while appearing at a sci-fi convention. Johnny Depp hires Warwick for a week to research being a dwarf for Tim Burton's Rumplestiltskin movie, but their work is cut short when Depp seizes a chance to get back at Gervais for his Golden Globes jokes.
Warwick is a guest of honor at a Star Wars-themed wedding.

3. Episode 3 (29:32) (Originally aired November 24, 2011)
As a co-chairman of a little people society, Warwick edges into a television interview, only to be edited out. He also finds and confronts the 16-year-old boy who has been trolling him on his newly-launched official website. Then, he gets a part in a Helena Bonham Carter movie... as a child's stand-in.

4. Episode 4 (29:33) (Originally aired December 1, 2011)
Cheryl helps Warwick look for a new flat, as he begins divorce proceedings. Warwick is witness to a tense Skype video chat between Gervais and his American counterpart, Steve Carell, regarding Carell making post-departure guest appearances on the US "Office." Finally, Warwick runs for chairman of the little persons advocacy group against the incumbent, hoping an appearance by "I'm Too Sexy" band Right Said Fred will get him the win.

Cat Deeley, paid to be the only real celebrity guest at Warwick Davis' housewarming party, crouches down to get her story straight. Sting pressures Warwick Davis into being more charitable than he can afford to be in the season finale.

Disc 2

5. Episode 5 (29:40) (Originally aired December 8, 2011)
Warwick visits his spiritual advisor and representatives of various religions. He also tries to start dating again and, to his dismay, is paired up with a dwarf lady (Kiruna Stamell).

6. Episode 6 (30:08) (Originally aired December 15, 2011)
Warwick prepares his flat for a housewarming party, which he pays TV presenter Cat Deeley to attend when no other celebrities will. There, he starts some relationship rumors.

7. Episode 7 (30:05) (Originally aired December 20, 2011)
Warwick attends a Sting-hosted charity dinner, where the $300/plate fee is only the beginning of expenses he is pressured into.

Warwick Davis finds himself in the demeaning position of hiding in a garbage can to stand-in for a child actor across from Helena Bonham Carter. Cheryl (Rosamund Hanson) reads the unflattering visitor remarks left on Warwick Davis' newly-launched official website.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Unlike in the UK, where the show airs on BBC Two and came to both DVD and Blu-ray last October, "Life's Too Short" hits US home video in a DVD-only release from HBO Home Entertainment. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is pretty good, but the digital video is marred by occasional shimmering in shot changes and certain shots. Other than that, the picture is without issue, though anyone accustomed to HD broadcasts and Blu-ray Discs is likely to notice and miss the additional sharpness and detail. Sound is provided in unremarkable Dolby Digital 5.1, with French and Spanish subs and dubs also provided as well as English SDH subtitles and closed captions.

Johnny Depp discusses his amusing guest appearance in "The Making of 'Life's Too Short.'" In this outtake, Ricky Gervais has fun running alongside a car that's not really moving against green screen.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The bulk of the bonus features appear on Disc 2. A humorous introduction from Davis, Gervais, and Merchant
sets the tone for "The Making of 'Life's Too Short'" (27:48), a featurette that leans too heavily on clips, but does garner good insight into the series from the creators and high profile guest stars.

Deleted scenes (10:23) are presented from the first three episodes. They begin with a very funny bit in which Gervais talks Neeson through a loaned anecdote, continue with unused moments from the sci-fi convention (including an appearance from the seventh Doctor Who, Sylvester McCoy), and end with an extended version of Davis' struggle to get a personal endorsement from Gervais and Merchant.

A reel of Outtakes (4:32) features unused bits and behind-the-scenes laughter, including no shortage of Gervais' signature "corpsing" cackle.

Ricky Gervais pops in for an unannounced visit to Warwick Davis' trailer in this Behind-the-Scenes short. Guest stars tower over Warwick Davis on the DVD's menu.

Finally, we get ten amusing Behind-the-Scenes shorts (27:37), which collect actors' thoughts, set tours, and more bloopers, with just a tad of overlap with the other extras.

In typical HBO DVD fashion, each episode gets its own synopsis page and 30-second preview.
With a Season Index feature, you can nicely access all those synopses and previews on either disc, whether or not the episode is on it.

Disc One opens with a promo for an assortment of recent and ongoing HBO dramas and comedies.

The main menu divides the screen into red and white halves to display a rotation of character photos and the occasional memorable line.

The standard black keepcase, an uncut Eco-Box with swinging tray, cleverly features creative artwork different from its cardboard slipcover's more marketable designs.

Warwick Davis shoots us a smile, confident of the ace in the hole he's about to drop on his divorce proceedings.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

If you've enjoyed Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's first two series, especially "Extras", you are likely to find "Life's Too Short" similarly entertaining, so long as you can embrace characters who are not conventionally sympathetic.

With the recent announcement that the series will not be getting a second season, but simply a series finale special, it seems kind of silly for HBO to release the DVD without that. Still, the show definitely merits a look for fans of comedy and Warwick Davis and the DVD adds a solid 70 minutes of extras to a perfectly adequate standard-def feature presentation.

Buy Life's Too Short: The Complete First Season on DVD at Amazon.com

Buy from Amazon.com

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Ricky Gervais: Ghost Town Cemetery Junction Stardust Night at the Museum Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

Warwick Davis:
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

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Reviewed January 14, 2013.



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