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Every so often, England hits the comedic mark and creates a benchmark
to which all else must aspire; Monthy Python, Dad's Army, Fawlty
Towers, Only Fools and Horses and, of course, the simply faultless "The
Office". The writing team of Gervais and Merchant crafted in that
series some of the most achingly funny and desperately well observed
depictions of the human condition ever committed to film. "The Office"
struck a particular chord with me because I have spent most of my adult
life in sales and they nailed the highs and lows of that career
Moving on then to their new offering; "Extras", I am happy to report that the observational skills have not deserted them. This time the central character (Andy Millman) is again played by Ricky Gervais, only, unlike his David Brent character, Millman is astute, caring and worth the time of day. Unforutnately, like Brent, he is also trapped in a spiral of underachievement.
Andy Millman is an film extra, a background artiste, who aspires to a real acting role and the central theme of each episode is his quest for a "line" in each film in which he appears in the background. Along side him is his (seemingly) only friend, a frustrated thirty something woman, Maggie Jacobs (superbly played by Ashley Jensen), whose sole aim seems to be to find a husband / longterm partner. Add into this mix a chronically crap agent (Merchant himself), a nemesis in the shape of another extra who seems to be getting lines and a liberal sprinkling of cameoing "A" list guest stars and you have a wonderful platform on which to build a spankingly funny series.
And wow... do they hit a home run! Every second of each episode is deliciously funny and acutely observed. Highlights to look out for are the Ben Stiller/Dodgeball opening weekend grosses scene - the Golly scene in Maggie's apartment - the "Are you really a Catholic scene" and, above anything you will have ever seen in a TV comedy, the entire Les Dennis episode.
Les Dennis will be lost on Americans but for those of us who have followed his plunging career, you can only weep for this superbly written and judged performance. Pathos doesn't even begin to cover it.
Also, anyone who can look at Kate Winslet again without thinking of that "phone sex" scene is a better man than me.
Please, please, watch "Extras". It may, for some, be an acquired taste but once you have that taste, its like a piece of Swiss chocolate - exquisite.
And no laugh track either - yay England.
Gervais had a big task on his hands with this project- The Office has
now entered into comedy history, and people had very high hopes for his
follow-up. The documentary style has been ditched, and Gervais has
given his character just a little more dignity than he gave David
Brent, so the comedy is a little less squeamish. The changes in
direction and style are daring and pay off- the show doesn't feel like
a desperate follow up or imitation of The Office. In fact, it's highly
It's a pitch black satire, which follows the efforts of Gervais's character as he attempts to progress from being an extra to actually getting a real acting job, or at least a line. The shows also charts his female friend's unsuccessful love-life, his deadpan agent and parodies a celebrity every week. This week it was the turn of Ben Stiller, who was mocked as an evil dictator of a man, who constantly reminds those around him of the box office of his movies and insists that kissing Cameron Diaz "still counts", even though it was for a movie. Stiller is a good sport for joining in, and has fun messing with his image.
Overall the show is gently paced, well written and shows extremely high potential for character study. Definitely one to watch.
STILLER: DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM!? GERVAIS: Starsky or Hutch- I can never remember. STILLER: Was that supposed to be funny? GERVAIS: You were in it- you tell me.
It seems odd that the knives are being sharpened so quickly - one
episode and, for some, it's all over bar the lynching. What price
comedic success, eh
? Like everybody, I thought The Office was pure
comedy gold. The premise was so strong that even the US offering
couldn't fail. So, this time up, what has Ricky Gervais got for us?
Well, more of the same only different. 'Extras' is in the same mould as
The Office, there are those cringe worthy moments that we've all grown
to love and expect...but there's a clever twist on the formula. The
Gervaise character isn't the butt of all of the jokes this time around.
Sure, the scene in the trailer with the crying eastern European
reminded one of the fake sacking of Dawn and the scene towards the end
at the party with the racial slurs was pure Brent, but more often than
not Andy was observer and rye commentator on what was going on around
him. This would simply have been beyond David Brent's self obsessed
All in all, 'Extras' has what it takes and I await the next episode with great anticipation.
"Extras" is another comedic highlight from the men who thought up "The
Office". One might think that the success of their previous show put
too much pressure on them to come up with a new project as brilliant
and hilarious, but they pulled it off. "Extras" is every bit as funny
"The Office". The humour is actually very similar with people talking
themselves into uncomfortable situations all the time. I think that
it's the new setting that turned off a lot of people who have written
negative reviews. "The Office" gave us regular guys and something to
identify with. A dead end job in a dead end town, gray routine and
idiotic colleagues. To laugh about this all too realistic situation had
a curative effect on audiences all around the world. With "Extras" it's
different. I'm sure that this show is close to reality, too, but only
the fewest people have ever worked as extras and can put themselves
into the shoes of struggling actors Andy Millman and Maggie Jacobs. If
you just accept that this show isn't "The Office" anymore and that
there's no Gareth, Tim or Dawn, you'll find out that "Extras" has a lot
to offer, too.
Every episode starts with a dramatic scene in Hollywood-style that's dismantled after a moment with someone yelling "cut" or Andy Millman's face popping up in the picture. Each episode also has a different guest star. With the success of "The Office" Gervais and Merchant (who plays a regular part in this series as well) managed to gather some big names for this project. Ben Stiller, Kate Winslet and Patrick Stewart all make very amusing cameos, but it's the British local heroes who really steal the show.
With only 6 episodes (so far) the first season ended way too quickly and I already long for the second series. This show still has lots of different ways to go. Hopefully Gervais and Merchant will explore the private lives of Maggie and Andy more as they did with the characters of "The Office" in the second series. Right now it seems as if everything those two brilliant guys touch turns to gold and I hope this streak of luck continues for a while.
After The Office and the superb Christmas Special, Extras had a lot to follow. Once I'd got over the newness (to me at least) of the other key actors, and the shock of seeing Ben Stiller playing himself as such a horrible person, I really liked it. The "Herman Munster" bit with the guy with the club foot had me laughing despite how cringe-worthy it was. Ricky's character is easy to sympathise with and the level of "shallowness" seems just right to me. However, on the BBC on Thursday, Extras is followed by Catherine Tate and Absolute Power with Stephen Fry, and both of these were on a par with Extras. That's 90 minutes of 1st class TV entertainment, lucky us!
Almost every review I have read on here today contains the words "The Office." Why can people not offer their thoughts on the quality of this programme as a stand alone piece? Ricky Gervais plays a different guy in completely different surroundings. He is limited as an actor (by his own admission) which is why some people have commented that it feels like they are watching David Brent. Gervais does not have the range to bring a completely new character to the screen and in effect plays variations of himself. It has a brand new cast supplemented by guest stars parodying themselves. Hats off to Ross Kemp last night, although Vinnie Jones stunk up the place a bit during his scene. This is a great concept which has been well written (so far) and I'm sure will grow into a firm favourite with regular viewers. Please give this a chance, it could be another classic.
The absolute hilarious look at show business as seen through the eyes
of a couple of Waiting for Godot type scene extras. With each episode,
Extras has gained momentum like a cartoon snowball.
You can call me crazy, but Ricky Gervais has merely channeled Carroll O'Connor's ghost, and made it his very own. The Gervais Merchant brand of humor likewise is more Norm Lear than anything else. We get the laughs from racial, ethnic, etc. punch-lined jokes because we are really laughing at the ignorance, insensitivity and gross stupidity of the joke teller, who is in the end, the ultimate joke. Every sacred cow topic or taboo joke in the book is conjured triumphantly on this show, and I sit and laugh I mean really laugh, right along with everyone else out there. Borat utilized the same principle. Unlike Borat however, Gervais and Merchant don't go overboard and falsely portray positive stereotypes. That lack of hypocrisy is what makes this show and The Office before it, far superior to Ali G, Borat and company. Make The Office and Extras a top priority in your viewing.
I think the genre of the movie is not clear to all... This is FAR from
your normal comedy. It's borderline dramatic. You'll get to gigel and
even laugh yourself to tears but the genius of the show doesn't lie
here. It's the awkward moments and the depressing ones that make this
show like no other.
I find myself sometimes wishing that Andy would find a new best friend, a new agent or at least a small break but the awkward comedy that follows always leaves me wanting for more, wanting to see how much he can take before he breaks.
The sadness that sometimes appears in Andy's eyes reminds us of all the unfortunes we had to go through in our lives. But he stands strong and so do we, just waiting to "have a laugh".
The ending fits perfectly with the theme of the show. "Tea for the Tillerman" offers a strangely thin comfort until the next time it will play, maybe under somewhat better circumstances (witch never really happens). I really think there is no better show to watch after a hard day at work. It always leaves you satisfied. So chin up Andy and do the magic that you do and maybe one day it will all be worth it!
What is it about irony that tickles us so? In some ways it reminds me
of films that I find delightful in their atrocity: "Doom", "DOA",
"Snakes on a Plane" are some recent prime examples of Goodness By
Antithesis; films that are so brazenly and proudly bad that you have to
like them. Irony, as we like to see it, is similar in that it is Humor
By Antithesis: situations and events that are so mundanely tragic, so
cringe-making and excruciating that we just have to laugh. It is a
bizarre logic, it's a twisted logic, but it's also worth noting that
it's a line so fine that only the cleverest and subtlest of writers can
really make it work. America's Larry David is one. England's Ricky
Gervais is the other.
In creating a follow-up series to "The Office", Gervais risked destroying a damn-near flawless career. It's hard to imagine there wasn't a niggling in his ear telling him to quit while he was ahead. What would really be the harm in letting the world remember him as David Brent? Apart from the nature of the character, the real harm in this would have been that to deny us Andy Millman would be to deny himself status as one of the world's most brilliant comic minds. "Extras" doesn't just further establish Gervais' incredible comedy prowess, it deepens it.
On the surface, the series patiently shows us the mundane and rather fruitless life of a working film Extra, Millman (Gervais), who fancies himself a "real actor" but has never gotten any real acting work. He bitches about this to his friend, confidant and fellow Extra Maggie (Ashley Jensen), who also shares her problems with him. Deep down, however, "Extras" is a deliciously satirical look at the ambitions of the human heart, the ironic overthrow of those ambitions and the emotional chaos of breaking the unspoken rules of society (such as 'Don't Lie To A Catholic Priest About Your Nonexistent Catholicism', and 'Don't Tell Your Best Friend's Colleague That Your Best Friend Said He Was "Too Gay"').
Other reviews have called "Extras" a watered down "Office", and I think this is a fair observation, but not at all a bad thing. After all, despite sequential order "Seinfeld" is much more diluted than "Curb Your Enthusiasm", but the former is still a far superior show. Not that any inferiority between Gervais' shows is being inferred, of course. Where "Extras" is softer than "The Office" is not in humor, or intelligence, merely in character. Andy is really quite a nice guy; insensitive at times, but only in a mild, charming kind of way. Your pity for him is genuine, and not the result of a deeper emotion such as bewilderment or frustration.
The David Brents of "Extras" are not Gervais at all but the transient side characters, and often (brilliantly, fantastically) the celebrity cameos. In short, and this is said with no inflation whatsoever, Celebrity Cameos as a film/television device has its worth made and sold in "Extras". We thought we'd seen self-parody work before. We were wrong. The sheer reckless abandon with which Gervais and the gallant celebrity meat send themselves up (and up and up) practically creates fireworks. Ben Stiller, Kate Winslet and Patrick Stewart are not only the draw cards but the dazzling high lights. They are forever heroes in my eyes.
Maybe it's this ultimate irony that galvanizes "Extras"' brilliance: the celebrity personalities who live the life Andy dreams of reveal themselves exclusively to him as being petty, irresponsible, greedy, insensitive, sexually perverted megalomaniacs, while he, the nobody Extra, cops all sorts of cosmic flack for, mostly, trying to do the right thing. Naturally, this kind of thing borders on cruel, but just before we begin to feel bad for laughing at his hopeless misfortune he lets us know it's alright by cracking a smile himself, telling a joke to Maggie and shaking it off. Then Cat Stevens washes us clean with "Tea for the Tillerman". Yes sir, Ricky Gervais knows how to make it work.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I notice that the DVD of the first series is not available on Amazon,
but it is here in Hong Kong and being an avid fan of the office and
Ricky Gervais live, I bought it straight away.
I must say, I'm not disappointed. It took a while to forget Gervais' Office character, David Brent, but when you do, look at him as "Andy" in this series and note that he's got a little more worldly wisdom than Brent, at the same time as being somewhat up himself as was Brent (here, in his constant reference to himself as a "real actor"). In all, though sufficiently different to be a new character - Andy, seeking through the series, that one line of dialogue that will make him the "real actor" that he continually claims he is.
His friend "Maggie" (Ashley Jensen) is wonderful, with a lovely accent and great comedic timing.
There were some real laugh-out-loud moments (for me, at least): Ben Stiller explaining why he's directing his movie, which appears to be a drama about a Balkan state: with references to all his comedic hits, is a great self-send up.
The scene where Andy advises Maggie on how to work up an excuse *before* someone asks you to a party you don't want to go to -- explaining that you need to say "your sister's coming to visit; you're gutted, but sorry you can't make it", then coaching her through it when the invitation duly comes -- priceless and very funny.
All the scenes of Kate Winslett suggesting to Maggie ways in which she could talk dirty on the phone with her boyfriend are simply wonderful.
There's another scene in the graveyard, with the "Dullard" in which Andy is pretending that a Jewish woman's grave, who died in 1953, is his mother's grave, making him "at least 52". Maggie helps him along.
All of the scenes with his hopeless "Agent" (Co-writer Stephen Merchant) are giggle-along funny, and worth a re-watch.
I enjoyed the series, and have watched parts of it twice or more, always the mark of good comedy.
I wonder what they will do for the "guest stars" in future? I hope they have lots more up their sleeves.
PF Hong Kong
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