Angelo's. Angelo (Steve Brody).

Steve Brody

Jo Hartley to star in mockumentary film Swede Caroline

Jo Hartley is to star in Swede Caroline, a new British comedy film about competitive giant vegetable growers.

British Comedy Guide, 20th August 2021

Two Phoneshop stars (Javone Prince and Steve Brody) have already popped up tonight in Life's Too Short, but this is a bad night for a returning sitcom.

After the first series, you'll already know if Phoneshop's mix of overblown urban patois and crude sexual references is your cup of tea, but tonight's episode starts strong with Jerwayne and Ashley riffing on the theme of lunch options.

If you don't speak street-slang, the few English phrases you do recognise like "M&S Simply range" and "Taste The Difference," leap out at you from the babble to hilarious effect.

You'll also notice there's absolutely no mention of the actual business of selling phones. (Don't tell me they've exhausted all the Pay As You Go jokes already!)

Instead, the male staff become escorts while Janine (Emma Fryer) takes her social life upmarket. You'll have no trouble spotting the moment it ends up back in the gutter.

Jane Simon, The Mirror, 10th November 2011

It's become clear that Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant are never going to make anything like The Office ever again. And, as they've said themselves, why should they: having created sitcom genius and revolutionised the genre, they are hardly likely to top it.

It's become clear that Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant are never going to make anything like The Office ever again. And, as they've said themselves, why should they: having created sitcom genius and revolutionised the genre, they are hardly likely to top it. What they did for an encore was Extras, which mocked their entry into the showbiz elite, yet celebrated it by bringing in all their new pals to amusingly send up their public images. They foisted the tedious witterings of their non-famous pal Karl Pilkington upon us, until he was in showbiz too. And Ricky made some disappointing movies and popped up in all his American showbiz mates' TV shows and on his pal Jonathan Ross' chat show and annoyed everyone by being offensive on Twitter (but maybe it was just him pretending to be offensive, except that still involved offending people, but they weren't his friends so they didn't really count). And meanwhile Stephen, er, did some "ironic" bank adverts.

OK, they did make the film Cemetery Junction, which wasn't about fame at all, but not many people saw that. Instead, Gervais in particular has seemed to relish spending his time in the public eye portraying a smug, annoying celebrity character to the point where the last line of Animal Farm seems to apply - looking "from pig to man and from man to pig ... but already it was impossible to say which was which".

So it is, ahem, small wonder that the pair's latest venture returns to that well, starring their showbiz chum and Extras guest star Warwick Davis, in a faux-documentary sitcom about a dwarf actor who runs an agency for other short actors (as Davis actually does) but who can't get any work for himself, even when he begs Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant to write him something. Confused? Yes, that's the point: life's too short revels in the boundaries between the real and the not-real, with most of the characters using their actual names, while playing themselves as venial twits.

The similarities to Extras can barely be overstated. While Davis has the starring role - and it was apparently his idea - the dialogue makes him actually sound like Ricky Gervais: you can hear those Brentian speech rhythms leaking out. It's oddly reminiscent of the recent films of Woody Allen, where he drafts in various young actors to play the "Woody" character and they all end up imitating those familiar nervous tics. Here, it's difficult not to hear Gervais's voice behind Davis's lines, such as: "I'm a bit like Martin Luther King, because I too have a dream that one day dwarves will be treated equally ... you say, oh no, it's not the same ... but I've never seen a black man fired from a cannon. Every day for a whole season and twice on Saturdays."

It's not the fault of Warwick Davis, who's absolutely fine in the role of a hapless fictional version of himself and clearly well up for any resulting confusion it may cause. But there's just so much of Gervais and Merchant, both in the references and on screen, that he's in danger of being squeezed out of what's meant to be his own show.

The show shares Extras' fascination with celebrity cameos and when Liam Neeson pops up to consult Gervais and Merchant, playing "themselves", on his stand-up comedy plans, Davis is relegated to the background while they milk the scene, surrounded by posters reminding us of all their previous work. Like Extras' Andy Millman, Davis' character has a useless hanger-on: instead of an agent, it's his accountant (Steve Brody, who was David Brent's useless agent in The Office Christmas Special). Even Barry Off Of EastEnders turns up, still playing the same loser.

Well, plenty of people loved Extras, of course, but given that it was a self-referential take on Gervais's own rise to fame, isn't making a meta-parody of it just a post-modern gag too far? But worse than that, the joke isn't all that funny anymore. There are a couple of laughs here, for sure (mostly from Neeson's bit), but the whole thing just seems like an indulgent, back-slapping waste of talent.

The Scotsman, 9th November 2011