Review-Special Correspondents

Ricky Gervais’ first foray, into Netflix filmmaking is a remake of the 2009 French film ‘Envoyés Très Spéciaux’.

Radio anchorman, Frank Bonneville (Eric Bana) is tasked with reporting on a rebel uprising in Quito, alongside radio technician Ian Finch (Ricky Gervais). On the way to the airport, the pair lose their passports and end up stuck in New York. They have two options. Own up and lose their jobs, or fake it.  So, from the Spanish resturant opposite the radio station, they use Ian’s audio expertise to falsify the report.  Unbeknownst to Ian, Frank slept with his wife. The day before she dumped him. As the lies grow bigger, the duo actually find themselves in Ecuador.

The film is meant to be a satire about mass media manipulation, but Gervais’ wimps out about half-way through. However, the biggest problem with special correspondents is the characters. None of them come across as real humans.

Gervais acts as writer/director, as well as co-star. But, he is woefully miscast as Ian. What we get is a clitche ridden caricature of a geek. He speaks about video games and comics. Given that it’s well-known that Gervais despises geek culture,  it’s hard to take him seriously.  Ben Whishaw or Rafe Spall would have been outsanding in this role.

Bana’s character is just bland. I think we’re meant to hate the guy, but also be impressed by him in a ‘loveable bastard’ type way. But he doesn’t do anything appalling enough to be hated or nice enough to endear him. 

America Ferrera and Raúl Castillo play a nice couple, who give Ian and Frank shelter. But the pair are unrealistically stupid, they could never run a successful business in the real world.

As bad as the other characters are, nobody has it worse than Vera Farmiga, as Ian’s wife, Eleanor. She’s a one-dimensional-fame hungry harpy, who takes to the talk show circuit to sell her “charity single”. She doesn’t have a single redeeming quality. 

This is Gervais’ first feature without a co-director. With the invention of lying, he had Matthew Robinson. With Cemetery Junction, he had former creative partner, Stephen Merchant. Special Correspodents proves that Gervais isn’t a natural filmmaker, the film relies too heavily on musical montages, clitches and leaps in time to tell the story.


Before people had even seen this, they were lampooning Gervais for “playing disabled”. Yes, Derek isn’t smarter than the average bear, but neither was Baldrick, Mr Bean, Homer, Trigger or Father Dougal, were any of these characters mocking disabled people? Derek’s innocence isn’t the subject of ridicule.

Derek is a sweet caring and kind man.
To say this isn’t the funniest thing Ricky Gervais has produced would in no way be a criticism. What we get instead is a touching heartfelt drama about Britain’s forgotten.

The only moments the script fails are when it tries too hard to be funny. The script actually works best during its tender moments. Yes, the show wasn’t perfect, but aside from Being Human, what pilots have been?

TV Review-Life’s Too Short Episode 4

This episode starts with Warwick flat hunting with Cheryl, his assistant. The scene is a clever reference back to Extras that seems to have been overlooked by every other critic. But then, other critics are busy bashing Life’s too short, as this is Gervais’ year for a media bashing.

The Daily Mail recently had to print a retraction after massaging the viewing figures, they only reported the overnight figures, which given the way we watch TV nowadays, are completely redundant as they don’t include viewers who record it and watch it later or people who access it via the Iplayer. It is funny that they only do it with popular shows, you never see ‘Homes under the hammer down 100 viewers’.

Anyway, in Extras, Andy Millman tried to impress a journalist from the Guardian.  Andy asked his friend Maggie to pretend to be his assistant. Warwick is trying to impress the estate agent; into thinking, he is more important than he is. The estate agent is the same actress who played the journalist.  It’s a great scene, which again showcases Warwick’s excellent comic timing. Warwick has a real knack for physical comedy and I predict will win many awards next year.

Later in the episode, Warwick turns to Ricky and Steve when he finds out his wife is having more than a professional relationship, with their divorce lawyer.
While in their office, Warwick sits in on a skype chat between Ricky, Stephen and Steve Carroll. When Ricky badmouths Carroll after thinking he had quit Skype, things take a turn for the worse. Speaking as someone who has been in this situation, it felt just as authentic and just as awkward.
Now at the midway point, Life’s too short is turning in to one of the best sitcoms the year and you know what, I’m glad the mainstream media doesn’t like it.

Life’s too short airs on Thursdays at 9:30 pm, on BBC2

Life’s Too Short: Episode 3

Warwick launches a new website in an effort to get himself more work, but it only ends up getting 12 hits and some nasty online comments. His clients at Dwarves For Hire believe that Warwick always takes the best roles for himself and he attempts to appease them by creating showreels re-enacting famous film scenes. I feel that this episode is where Life’s Too Short finally found its feet. This is what I’ve been waiting for, some quality time with Warwick. The celebrity cameo is in the last few minutes and the episode works so much better because of it. Helena Bonham-Carter doesn’t overshadow the episode, in the way the Neeson and Depp did. 

We were left with Warwick and Cheryl and this is when the show is at it’s strongest. For series 2 I’d rather they toned down the celebrity cameos, maybe go an episode or two without them.

The critic’s main problem with Life’s Too Short, is that it features an adult male dwarf playing an adult male dwarf, as opposed to a leprechaun or a goblin. It’s worth a pretty penny nowadays when dwarves want to play something other than an Oompa Loompa. This is almost the same problem Jon Watkins had with The Fosters, back in 1976. I thought we had moved on.

Life’s Too Short airs on Thursday’s at 9:30 pm, on BBC2

DVD REVIEW-An Idiot Abroad 2:The Bucket List

I have been a fan of Karl Pilkington for a long time and used to tune into Ricky Gervais’ Saturday Xfm radio show religiously to hear Karl’s ramblings. I have been a fan of the podcasts since they started them and I have read Karl’s books. Yes, he is a published author and I have enjoyed spotting Karl’s cameos in all of Gervais’ and Merchant’s work. Safe to say, I was always going to watch An Idiot Abroad.

Now, if you did not like An Idiot Abroad first time round, this series will do little to win you over. Karl had such a rough experience filming the first series that he vowed he wouldn’t make a second. However, An Idiot Abroad was the most-watched programme in the history of Sky 1, so a second series was always going to happen.

This time around Karl got to pick things he wanted to do from the bucket list. A bucket list is a list of things you want to do before you die. Swim with dolphins, drive along Route 66, etc. Ricky and Steve still pull out all the stops to make Karl’s experience as hellish as possible, from sending him to a hug-party, to getting him dressed up by Thai ladyboys and the result is hilarious. Karl is constantly out of his comfort zone and being pushed beyond his limits.

In typical Gervais/Merchant style there won’t be a third series of An Idiot Abroad, but there are plans for a 2012 Christmas special called An Idiot Abroad: The Short Way Round, where Pilkington travels the world on a bicycle with Warwick Davis sat in a basket on the front. Forget the Olympics, this will be the event of 2012.

An Idiot Abroad is available on DVD and Blu Ray

Review-Life’s Too Short: Episode 2

For some reason, critics haven’t been that keen on this new venture from Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. I think that’s due to this being Gervais’ year, every year the media seem to pick a celebrity they’ve always liked, then tarnish them. Quite why this is happening is still a mystery to me and that’s probably why I’ll never be taken seriously as a critic.

This series is really starting to take shape, Warwick again puts in an amazing comic performance, everyone involved is perfectly suited for comedy.

My personal highlight happened when Warwick and his assistant, Cheryl (Rosamund Hanson) are discussing ways to expand and bring in new business, she suggests he should dress up as a little girl and wait in the woods, as paedophile bait. In fact, the best parts of this episode were the parts that just featured Warwick and Cheryl. The convention scene was genuinely funny. You felt sympathy for the young boy with the brain tumour, but also for Warwick as everyone in the line then used the tumour excuse to avoid paying the £25 for his autograph.

The only criticism I have about Life’s Too Short is the celebrity cameos, with Warwick and Cheryl I don’t think you need them. It’s almost as if they’re making extras, without making extras. The post-credit scene made me realise, how much I miss extras.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved Johnny Depp’s part in this episode, the confrontation between him and Gervais felt authentic, but if you had taken Depp out, it wouldn’t have affected the episode.
Another time you feel for Warwick is when he turns up at the couples, Star Wars-themed wedding and they expect him to be dressed as Wickett the Ewok. This reflects a real-life experience Warwick had when he was asked to open a garden centre at Christmas and told by the owner “bring your elf costume”. The speech Warwick gave at the wedding was the brilliant cringe-worthy comedy that Gervais writes so well.
Overall I’m enjoying this series and I look forward to episode 3

Life’s Too Short airs on Thursdays, at 9:30 pm on BBC2

Life’s Too Short-Episode One

While I never got into The Office, I have always been a fan of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s other work, like their X-FM radio show, their podcast and Cemetery Junction. So, when they returned to their mockumentary-style sitcom format with Life’s Too Short, I was excited to see what they had in store.
Unlike the ordinary people who got their 15 minutes of fame in the late ’90s, the show focuses on a Z-list celebrity, Warwick Davis, playing a fictionalized version of himself. Davis is in a financial mess, with debts amounting to £250,000 and a divorce that’s taken its toll. He begs Gervais and Merchant to cast him in a new project, but they try to shake him off.

While the first episode didn’t make me laugh out loud, it was still enjoyable and funny. I think comedy is a challenging genre to get right, which is why I prefer to write reviews instead of sitcoms. Nevertheless, the show had its moments, like Liam Neeson trying out improv comedy about AIDS, with his quip about being cast in Schindler’s List because he always makes lists being a particular highlight. Davis also showed some impressive comic timing, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he won a few awards in 2012.

Overall, while the premiere was a bit shaky, Gervais and Merchant on an off day are still better than most of what’s on TV. I’m going to stick with Life’s Too Short and see where it goes.