I can't quite remember when the words 'playing an exaggerated version of himself' became shorthand for comedy gold. Wherever it began, the watershed was perhaps 1999's Being John Malkovich, in which the previously dour thespian played himself for laughs in a show of remarkable self-awareness. Today, every third comedy show is a variation on the theme, be it Coogan and Brydon in The Trip, Matt Le Blanc in Episodes or Charlie Sheen in Two and a . . . sorry, scratch that last one. I said exaggerated, not toned down.
And so we reach Life's Too Short, where Warwick Davis, the artist formerly known as Wicket the Ewok, plays the dwarf proprietor of an agency for small actors, as he is in real life. Scripted by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant (as you will already know unless you've been holidaying on Mars, so heavily has this been publicised), Davis' fictional life is presented in mockumentary style, the writers' preferred format but one that is problematic here. Conceited, self-deluded and chauvinistic, Davis is put into a series of awkward situations that lead inevitably to embarrassment and a knowing look to camera. So far, so familiar.
The other problem is that it is difficult to judge the quality of the writing from this opening episode, as it is not so much a scene-setter as an extended trailer for the rest of the series. Every available plot thread is sewn, no matter how incongruously, on the premise that this is reality television – Davis moves out of the family home, needs quick money to pay a tax bill and hires a new secretary (the girl with the implausibly-shaped face from This Is England). Tellingly, though, the only real laughs here are derived from Davis' gift for physical comedy and an excellent sketch featuring a taciturn Liam Neeson embarking on a fruitless quest to uncover his long-lost sense of humour.
There are reminders of other, better executed comedies at almost every turn, from I'm Alan Partridge (Davis' acrimonious separation from his wife), to Phoenix Nights (an excruciating audition at the talent agency), to The Office (there, I've said it). Meanwhile, the running gag that no one has seen Willow, the film flop written for Davis by George Lucas, feels suspiciously like the travails of John Malkovich, who encounters a series of people congratulating him on the 'jewel thief movie' in which he didn't appear.
Gervais and Merchant have apparently been looking in the right places for their inspiration. It is a shame that the end product doesn't quite measure up.