Life's Too Short, BBC2, Thursday
To the Manor Reborn, BBC1, Thursday

If you're not getting the joke, perhaps the joke isn't there

Is dwarf-tossing your thing? Does it make you laugh? Because that's how last week's episode of Life's Too Short, the new mockumentary from Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, began.

If you were sitting there, sides splitting, was it because you thought the idea of heaving a dwarf like a tenpin bowl was riotously funny? Or was it because you were able to take a step back, at that very moment, and say, "Now that's some good meta-commentary on the way we treat people of a different height from the majority"? If your response was the former, you're clearly not the most evolved of creatures, but at least you're true to yourself. If your answer was the latter, my suspicion is that you're lying to yourself.

But that is just how fans of this show are justifying its treatment of its chief subject, 3ft 6in Warwick Davis – former Ewok, Hogwarts professor and leprechaun. Davis, they say, came up with the idea for the series, so how could it be demeaning? Yes, he came up with the idea, but he didn't write the scripts. Three weeks in and he's already been stuck in a dog flap, half-submerged in a toilet and encased in a teddy-bear costume. I can only guess he is hoping to prove he can laugh at himself.

The series has attracted substantial opprobrium, some of it aimed in an unfairly personal way at Gervais, who has reacted by misconceiving all critique as being based on envy. But there is a basic problem with the show, which is that even if you don't find its content degrading, it is simply shoddily derivative. Davis plays a character called Warwick Davis who, as in life, runs a talent agency for those of diminutive stature. The departure from reality (one hopes) is that Davis is not only small, but also has small-man syndrome. This results in a character who is just another retread of the David Brent/Extras's Andy Millman formula, complete with glances to camera and absurd delusions of grandeur. We've seen it before – and without feeling quite so degraded.

In this episode, for instance, there is a monologue in which he talks about one dwarf on his agency's roster thus: "Bernard, he's useless ... I told him, 'You want to volunteer for medical experiments, you'd make more money that way.' ... Even if he ends up deformed or deaf and dumb or loses the use of his legs, he'd be no worse than he is now, and he'd have money in the bank."

If that is a speech ridiculing those who think in this way, then the tone is confused by a scene in which we see Davis attend a police station to bail out one of his charges, Paul, who has been arrested for drunk-driving a tricycle down a dual carriageway. Once bailed, Paul makes a getaway on that self-same trike, only to crash and end up on his back, his legs flailing like a beetle's as he tries to right himself. That's physical humour, not a send-up of our response to it; that's laughing at him for his body shape, and that's a shame.

There's pushing the boundaries, then there's Gervais. As evidenced by the "mong" debate, his comedic ethos seems to be about challenging political correctness by being politically incorrect and winking – and that's not good enough. Consider a scene in which Davis turns up at a school to "destroy" a 16-year-old who has posted disparaging comments about him online. Davis accuses the teenager, who at this point is anonymous, of being a gay dwarf fetishist. With the epithets "bum chum" and "bender" ringing in his ears from his classmates, the boy is left in tears. The humour? He's in a wheelchair, making Davis feel embarrassed by his actions. But it's not half cheap to use backward homosexual taunts to get there.

Someone who could never be accused of anything other than perfectly proper behaviour is Penelope Keith. To the Manor Born, for those who don't remember, was an early 1980s sitcom in which Keith played an upper-class woman fallen on hard times. Peter Bowles was the nouveau-riche spiv she fell in with. Quite what happened in any specific episode is lost to the mists of time, but the basic idea was a budding romance. The Manor Reborn sees Keith team up with Flog It!'s Paul Martin to try to restore 500-year-old Avebury Manor in Wiltshire as an immersive National Trust estate.

It's perfectly functional, with Keith offering a running commentary, and it's certainly inoffensive. But it doesn't belong on a Thursday night. It belongs on a Sunday evening when you can safely nod off, reassured that the worst thing that can happen is the seedlings for the Victorian kitchen garden fail to germinate.

Suggested Topics
Arts & Entertainment
TV

Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit