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

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