I’ve been down on Life’s Too Short’s meandering tendencies, but I will congratulate the series’ first season for the following: Every major plotline and pointless detour plays a part in the ending of the sixth episode, where Warwick finds himself alone in his new flat. Alone in a metaphorical sense, at least: There are three sozzled, suicidal television personalities stationed at the counter, and Cat Deeley’s making good on her $5,000 appearance fee by cleaning up the remnants of Warwick’s abruptly scrapped housewarming party. Through egotism, selfishness, delusion, obliviousness, and the occasional outright cruelty, the character has successfully isolated himself from everyone in his life. Things couldn’t possibly get worse—then Les Dennis pukes all over himself and Shaun Williamson. And… scene.
Those are dire, fleetingly funny circumstances, and seeing as Warwick’s debts remain unresolved (and mounting, thanks to five-grand fake girlfriend Deeley), they can only grow more dire in next week’s season finale. In the event that Warwick’s spiral continues, I hope it does so in a manner akin to this sixth episode, by far the most focused, most enjoyable, and most uncomfortable half-hour of Life’s Too Short’s first season. It helps that Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant build the spokes of the episode out of a single event and location: the party at Warwick’s flat, a setting that allows the series’ sketchily drawn principals to bounce off one another (and rub each other the wrong way) in a natural, casual manner. Down-and-out accountant Eric makes an obvious conversation companion to Dennis, Keith Chegwin, and Shaun Williamson, and their chat about how they’d off themselves mines some wildly dark humor for big laughs. (Additionally, the various party guests each get a crack at disturbing Cat Deeley.) The party also gives Matthew Holness’ deadpan lawyer Ian a venue for torturing Warwick on his romantic/legal rival’s home turf. For all the bumpy writing in this first season, there have been some terrific performances; Holness’ ease in his role as a blithely condescending attorney makes me wish the actor had a bigger part to play in the proceedings (or that he was leading an entirely different show). Episode six is a relaxed installment operating on a no-brainer premise, so it needed some solid performances like those of Holness, Steve Brody, and, sure, Cat Deeley, to get by.
Of course, it would take more than one good half-hour of Life’s Too Short to justify the sloppiness and self-indulgence that came before this sixth episode. It still leaves me feeling down—not just because of Warwick’s precarious position, but because the episode shows that this first season could’ve done so much more. Sure, there are still some shoddy elements (I’ll never find the sight of Warwick Davis falling over as funny as Gervais and Merchant do), and it appears Dwarves For Hire has been reduced to a place where Warwick makes phone calls and surfs the Internet, but there’s an ease and a sense of fun that was lacking earlier in the season.
That’s attributable in part to the party (even a disastrous party gives a TV show an extra bit of pep) and in part to the pacing. Episode six doesn’t try to cram in as many side stories and vignettes as episodes three or five; that pays off in the breathing room afforded to the exchanges at the party or the sequence where Warwick—following a farcical switcheroo by Cheryl—throws a perfectly good washing machine into a ravine. It’s a refreshingly patient scene, and one that, while it strains believability, nevertheless plays Cheryl’s typically insufferable personality for a great joke.
The characters on Life’s Too Short still lack some crucial dimensions, but tonight’s successful character-based gags don’t call attention to that fact. They use what little we know about these people—“Cheryl’s an unthinking drone,” “Warwick’s self-centered,” “Ian’s patronizing and manipulative,” to name a few—to push them toward organically arising disasters. It’s awful fun having Ian around to bring out the worst in Warwick. Our protagonist was badly in need of a foil that wasn’t himself (or a perfectly likeable person like the chairman of the Society of People of Short Stature), and now he has one in the form of a slick-operating nuisance who smugly (yet modestly) touts the fact that he doesn’t own a TV.
It’s bothersome, then, that once these characters all end up in the same place, they remain weirdly closed-off from one another. That’s a symptom of the way Gervais and Merchant write dialogue; their characters don’t so much speak with one another as much as they speak at one another. The actors are good enough to convey attachment to one another in the better moments of the party sequences, but some scenes—like the one where Warwick tries to persuade his ex-wife Sue that he and Cat are an item—give the off-putting, stagey impression of an actor presenting a monologue to a one-person audience. Sure, Warwick’s alone at the end of the night, but in a sense, he and all of his guests were alone when the party was in full swing.