We’re three weeks into Team Mervais’s new comedy Life’s Too Short and the reviews have been lukewarm to say the least. Most people agree that Warwick Davis’ alter-ego is simply a pint-sized David Brent, but the real debate is whether the sitcom crosses a line by scoring jokes off a little person.
“I’m angry that the network I pay for should be screening something so offensive,” said Kristina Gray – who’s currently running a Facebook campaign to get the programme taken off air – in The Guardian. “Substitute the word “dwarf” with that of another minority or disability, and the BBC would probably find itself in court. Anyone with intelligence who watches this show needs to think hard about whether they’re laughing with Davis – or at him.”
Offensive or not, the comedy is losing audience share rapidly. Last night’s episode, in which Helena Bonham Carter demanded that Davis be put in a bin for a scene they were doing together and referred to him as ‘it’, was watched by fewer than 1.5 million people. A marked difference from the 2.5 million who watched the first one a fortnight ago.
If Gervais didn’t see the loss of viewers coming, he definitely saw the furore surrounding the subject material a mile off, and took every opportunity to preempt critics during Life’s Too Short‘s exhaustive publicity drive. He suggested that those who were offended by the show should consider whether their own preconceptions were the root of their outrage and recently went further in a BBC blog about the series.
“I always expect some people to be offended. I know I ruffle feathers but some people’s feathers need a little ruffling,” he wrote. “And remember: just because someone is offended doesn’t mean they’re in the right. Some people are offended by multi-culturalism, homosexuality, abortion, atheism… what should we do? Ban all those things? You have the right to be offended, and I have the right to offend you. But no one has the right to never be offended.”
Yet not every viewer buys this excuse. “I note that Gervais has already employed the ‘You’re So Vain’ defence – if you don’t like it, then you are the audience he is trying to annoy. Brilliant. You can’t lose can you?” said OTB reader ‘Bored’.
Another person who seems bored is John Crace of The Guardian, who reckons “the problem with this new series is not that it’s offensive; it’s that it’s just not very funny” ..a review that will probably hurt Gervais more than any outrage ever could.
Although the second half of his article is much stronger.. “Gervais’ own desperation for fame is now utterly transparent. Having seen him crave Johnny Depp’s approval on the Graham Norton show last week, it’s become impossible to believe in his indifference to celebrity.” Boom! Maybe he finished the review after getting back from the pub.
David Stubbs of The Quietus went even further in his punchily-titled article ‘A Boor, A Creep, A Bully And An Oaf – What Happened To Ricky Gervais?’.. “Johnny Depp unabashedly treats him like a performing circus freak, Gervais himself, as himself, refers to him as the “inch-high detective”, etc. Sure, dwarves might well encounter these attitudes, but all the time, from absolutely everybody? This has no accordance to reality – rather, it’s like Gervais has tried to bake up his own Curb Your Enthusiasm, but got the ingredients all wrong.”
One person who is certainly enjoying the comedy is ‘Iceblock’ who leapt to the show’s defence on The Daily Telegraph’s website. “I admit that having a laugh at warick’s expense may seem a bit harsh but if he is happy and willing for that too happen then who are we to judge?” they said, raising an important point.
Davis has publicly spoken of his pride at the series and was keen to take some creative responsibility for it in an interview with Digital Spy. “I’m one of the show’s creators,” he said. “I’ve lived my life like this. I’ve seen it all. People have stared at me, people have made fun of me, but at the same time, I also know how awkward people can feel around someone short.”
“In this society of being politically correct, people tend to trip over things more. They are so worried about what to say. I find people when chatting to me end up saying the word short and small a lot more often than they normally would because they’re trying not to say it.”
Yet scenes in which his height is the sole comical element have been criticised by many as exploitative, despite what the star himself thinks. Kristina Gray, who has a son with dwarfism, explains that scenes like the one where Warwick enters his house through the cat-flap were difficult to watch and the one where he fell out of his car on the drive are simply too cheap.
But others have suggested that it might not be as cut-and-dry as that. “If you want to take offence, be his guest. Gervais has certainly made it easy for you. But be warned that you may have to suppress a laugh as you do it, and then think about what exactly you’re suppressing,” said Tom Sutcliffe in The Independent.
So what do you think of Life’s Too Short? Too offensive or too funny?