Review: Extras

12 02 2011

Extras

Season 1:

Starring: Ricky Gervais, Ashley Jensen and Stephen Merchant

Rating: Not Rated

Length: 6 30-minute episodes

IMDB Rating: 8.9/10

Set-Up: Andy Millman, played by Ricky Gervais, is an extra. You know, the people milling around in the background of a movie, never getting any lines, or more than a few seconds of screen time. Still, Andy and his friend Maggie have big dreams to break into actual acting roles. The episodes usually revolve around Andy trying to achieve this dream. Whether it’s convincing people that he should get a few lines of dialogue, or trying to sell them on the script for the sitcom he’s created.

I’ll be honest here, I picked up this show, my first rental from the library of the semester, as the Golden Globes awards reminded me how much I love Ricky Gervais and his trademark brand of humor. Frankly though, the first season is kind of a chore to get through. Gervais or any of the character don’t really add anything that we haven’t seen before on Entourage, or the little-seen but excellent Party Down. In fact, Andy’s attempts to achieve his dreams come off more annoying than anything.

In the episode, “Ben Stiller,” Andy befriends/manipulates a man whose life-story is being made into a movie directed by Ben Stiller, into getting speaking role. In previous roles where Gervais has played this same type of character, like in “The Office,” he had people in the environment to play off of, or at least would call him on his self-serving antics. Here, it more often than not just feels like he’s taking advantage of those not wise enough to call him on said antics. It all just seems a little too self-contained to really be taken as funny. His friend Maggie does get a good sub-plot in an episode where she tries not being overly sensitive on race when she starts dating a mixed-race actor. This type of plot is familiar to the Gervais staple, but it’s hilarious all the same.

The saving grace of the season however are the celebrities that cameo in the episode they’re named after.. Since Andy is working on an actual movie set, real-life actors are usually around, and they always come into contact with Andy at some point during the episode.  Kate Winslet will come around for instance and give advice to the characters on their sex lives. Patrick Stewart will talk about how he’s writing a script whose situation’s usually involve a topless female. However, Ben Stiller may have the best cameo as the director of a war film he’s making because in addition to people watching Dodgeball twenty times in a row due to its funniness, he also wants people to feel something. This Ben Stiller also has a proclivity for inserting the gross of Meet the Parents into a conversation whenever possible. So yeah, it’s pretty hilarious.

I will also compliment the show on using a Cat Stevens song as its end credits song. By the end of the first season I had fully memorized Stevens’ “Tea For Tillerman.”

Season 2:

Starring: Ricky Gervais, Ashley Jensen and Stephen Merchant

Rating: Not Rated

Length: 6 30-minute episodes

IMDB Rating: 8.9/10

Set-Up: Andy Millman, played by Ricky Gervais, has finally sold his sitcom with the help of Patrick Stewart, to the BBC. The show becomes a huge hit, but with it Andy must sell his creative soul as the character he plays in the show resorts to catchphrases and wearing funny wigs to draw comedy.

Ah, what a change of venue can do for your show. Along with the drastic change of settings and circumstances for Andy, the show also figured out a lot of the problems that the show was having. Stephen Merchant is better integrated into the show for example.

But the best change is the large-stage that Andy now finds himself on. Andy’s still the jerk he ever was, but now when he’s a jerk, the whole world knows about it due to his drastically increased popularity. As such, the sporadic trickle of comedy from the first season now becomes an ever-flowing stream.

Probably the series’ best moments come in the form the episode “Daniel Radcliffe.” In the episode, Andy complains about a child making too much noise in a fancy restaurant, and when he brushes of the child’s mother, the media runs with the story absolutely killing Andy’s reputation as the story grows ever more out of control. But of course, the episode ends with Andy inadvertently getting to a fight with dwarf actor Warwick Davis, and knocking him unconscious. Andy got his fame by selling out for a sitcom. But fame just means that everybody in the world knows the mistakes you make. Andy Millman, mostly due to his personality, makes a lot of mistakes. Let the career suicide begin.

I won’t spoil it for you, but trust me, it’s hilarious.

The celebrity cameos are also somehow funnier. During the season, Andy’s friend Maggie somehow becomes attracts the affections of a self-obsessed Orlando Bloom is absolutely baffled when a woman doesn’t instantly want to throw herself at him, and a sex-obsessed Daniel  Radcliffe, aka Harry Potter. And unlike the previous season whose major star cameos for that episode would only be known in Britain, this season boasts an impressive array of A-list cameos.

If you’re wondering, you can essentially skip Season 1 and not miss much plot wise, and jump right into Season 2. In fact, you could watch Season 2 only, and be better off for it.

The Extras Christmas Special:

Starring: Ricky Gervais, Ashley Jensen and Stephen Merchant

Rating: Not Rated

Length: 1 84-minute episode

IMDB Rating: 8.9/10

Set-Up: Andy Millman, played by Ricky Gervais, is more famous than ever due to his show. But he wants more than a character who spews catchphrases and wears silly wigs. So he gets a new agent and leaves his still-popular show determined once and for all to become a respected actor. As suspected, things don’t go as planned.

As with “The Office,” Extras had two very short seasons, then ended their show. Then of course a year later, they came back with a “Christmas Special” which essentially took a look at the characters a year later to give them more closure. Unlike The Office however, Extras probably should have just left well-enough alone. I mean, the 2nd season won an American Emmy Award for Best Comedy. Season 2 had left the series off in a nice place, but due to audience requests and the like, they brought it back for one last special to wrap the show up.

The Christmas Special isn’t interested in laughs as much as it is focusing on Andy’s journey to gain respectability. This of course leads into an existentialist look on fame itself, and everything one goes through to achieve it. It’s basically the same message the series has been peddling all along, but now there’s no laughs to offset it. And if there’s no laughs to offset it, you’re entirely dependent on the message, then it has to be presented well.

I don’t want to go into the details of it, but essentially Andy makes a speech on Big Brother renouncing essentially everything that has made Ricky Gervais a successful actor. And at least in my opinion, it comes off as pretentious. Your opinion will vary on his decision, and the whole special in general, but I didn’t care for it.

The Extras Christmas Special:

Chris Martin & Andy Millman as his sitcom character

Overall, Extras is at its best is a hilarious parable about how being at the height of popularity just means that your mistakes have that much farther to fall. At its worst, its a pretentious and unfunny bore done better in a myriad of other places. I would be more than happy to reccomend the 2nd season (2nd series if you’re British), and give it 5 Leguizamos. But as/is, it’s bookended by a season and a special that I would each give 2 Leguizamos. But since I’m judging the series as a whole, I give it:

3/5 Leguizamos





Must-See & New In Documentary & TV: The Febuary Edition

9 02 2011

Documentaries:

Restrepo:

Director(s): Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger

Rating: R (for language throughout including some descriptions of violence)

Length: 93 minutes

IMDB Rating: 7.6/10

One of the films nominated for the Oscar for Best Documentary, Restrepo tells the story of a Platoon deployed in Afghanistan from the time of their deployment, to their return. Think The Hurt Locker, except if The Hurt Locker was made by National Geographic. The war in the Middle East is usually a hard thing to predict, but since it seems like this focuses more on the personal side of the men, I’ll give it a try. The good reviews don’t hurt that much either.

Exit Through The Giftshop:

Director(s): Banksy

Rating: R (for some language)

Length: 87 minutes

IMDB Rating: 8.2/10

Also nominated for the Oscar for Best Documentary, Exit Through The Giftshop is a look at Street Art, the modern art scene in general, and the ‘supposed’ people behind it. I say ‘supposed’ since the question of the realism of this film and the authenticity of its events is in question. Nobody even knows exactly what the director, Banksy looks like. Still, his legend in the art scene and its message about said art scene probably makes this worth a watch. I’ll let you know for sure when I check it out for myself.

TV Shows:

Community Season 1:

Starring: Joel McHale, Chevy Chase, Gillian Jacobs and Donald Glover

Rating: TV-PG

Length: 25 22-minute episodes

IMDB Rating: 8.9/10

Set-Up: When it’s discovered his degree is from the country of Columbia, and not the University, a smooth attorney must go back to community college in order to reclaim his old life. There, he starts a Spanish study group with the various other eccentric students. The show usually revolves around the antics and relationships of the members of this group.

Community is essentially the new Arrested Development. In that, I mean that it’s currently the best comedy on TV right now, that you’re not watching. It’s not quite as bizarre as Arrested Development, but there’s always the great cast of characters to hang onto if a joke doesn’t quite work. And if that fails, a brilliant pop culture reference or three isn’t far behind. The first-half of the season is very rough at times, but when it finally finds its comedic grooves and dynamics, the show is nearly unstoppable. If you only try one episode though, pick “Modern Warfare.” Directed by Justin Lin, who has worked on the last three Fast and Furious films, the episode is an all-out parody of action films set during a fierce game of paintball at the school. It showcases all the best elements of the series and might be one of the most memorable episodes of a comedy series you’re likely to see. I liked this season so much that I went out and bought it.

Modern Family Season 1:

Starring: Ed O’Neill, Sofía Vergara and Julie Bowen

Rating: TV-PG

Length: 24 22-minute episodes

IMDB Rating: 9.1/10

Set-Up: Exploring the dynamics of the modern family, the show follows the Pritchetts, who include the father married to a much younger wife, the son who along with his partner try to raise a daughter they just adopted, and the homemaker daughter who’s married whose sometimes-juvenile husband describes himself as the “cool dad.”

The savior of the family sitcom, Modern Family is a light and breezy sitcom in the same vein as the Office, except with less awkwardness.  The laughs are frequent, the characters are lovable, and frankly, its nice to see this amount of diversity on an American TV show. It’s well-written and enjoyable for all ages.

Sherlock Season 1:

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman

Rating: Not Rated

Length: 3 90-minute episodes

IMDB Rating: 9.0/10

Set-Up: Set in modern-day London, John Watson has recently returned from military service in Afghanistan when he’s introduced to unofficial police consultant Sherlock Holmes.  The two soon become flatmates and partners in investigating various crimes.

Created by the brilliant Steven Moffat, Sherlock is a clever and fast-paced update on the classic character. It may seem like there’s already too many Sherlock derivatives already gracing TV today, but Moffat’s version pits Sherlock as an eccentric man not too far off from the serial killers he tracks down. The 2nd episode might be worth skipping, but the 1st and 3rd episodes are mind-blowingly good.