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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have been a huge fan of this side-splittingly hilarious series since
it first aired on HBO in 2005 and have always admired the writing, the
acting, and the outrageous situations created by the ingenious minds of
Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant.
I didn't think anything in the show's finale could possibly top what I'd already seen in prior episodes, but Gervais and Merchant managed to take the show's screwball concept, turn it upside down, and deliver an incredibly moving and heartfelt dramatic ending. It was a big gamble to toss aside the comedy and go for the serious stuff, but it paid off.
The episode begins lightly enough, with Gervais' character, Andy Millman, struggling to adapt to his sudden fortune and fame. No longer an extra scraping to get by and dreaming of making it big, he's now the star of a hit sitcom on the BBC, he has his own catchphrase that's bigger in Britain than "You ARE the weakest link" - he even has a doll in his TV character's likeness. Trouble is, being famous isn't at all how Andy envisioned it. He feels like a sellout - a one-trick pony who will never be able to rise above the sitcom cesspool he now finds himself in.
And this is where the show takes a dark turn. Andy becomes increasingly embittered, jealous, and egotistical, to the point where he fires his inept agent and literally pushes his best friend Maggie out of his life. Ashley Jensen delivers the single finest small screen performance by an actress this year as Maggie Jacobs, the long-suffering, not too bright, yet unwaveringly loyal best friend of Andy. In a pivotal scene featuring Clive Owen as himself, Maggie comes to the sad conclusion that she can no longer continue to work as an extra. The scene is played for laughs, but it's uncomfortable to watch, because although we're witnessing the ongoing degradation that Maggie has always suffered as just another warm body on the movie set, it's really the first time Maggie herself realizes what's happening to her. Jensen brilliantly plays it out through nothing more than her facial expressions, and her pain is palpable.
Maggie's despair continues as she becomes more distant from Andy and ends up taking jobs as a maid and a dishwasher just to survive. The scene in which she begs Andy's former agent for a job at his new workplace, Car Phone Warehouse, is particularly heartbreaking. Why Jensen was denied a Golden Globe nomination this year is beyond me.
Meanwhile, Andy discovers that his new affiliation with a hip and sexy talent firm isn't all it's cracked up to be. Andy wants to be a "serious actor," but all he's offered are throwaway roles in "Dr. Who" and "Hotel Babylon." His new agent stops taking his calls altogether, and Andy realizes the only way to get work is to throw his legitimate acting aspirations out the window and go exclusively for the fame and fortune. He winds up as a contestant on Celebrity Big Brother - something he swore he'd never do - and it's here that the realization of what his life has become finally sets in.
In what's probably the most poignant and moving scene in television this year, Andy bares his soul to the watchful eye of the Big Brother camera. Here, Gervais shows he's just as adept at drama as he is at comedy.
Just when you think it can't get any worse for the show's characters (Andy's sunk to the lowest of lows, Maggie's living in a run-down, one-room flat, and Andy's agent is a cell phone salesman), Andy has an epiphany, and ultimately, a redemption. What better ending could you hope for than watching Andy and Maggie drive away in her beat up little car, headed for Heathrow airport, the promise of new hope and new adventures in front of them? When a brilliantly executed series ends after such an abbreviated run (see Gervais' "The Office"), I usually feel cheated and longing for more, but not in this case. "Extras" takes us to the place we know these characters need to be, then fondly waves goodbye and doesn't look back.
Having been a fan of The Office and an underwhelmed viewer of the
Extras series I approached this 'Special' with caution.
In this 90 minuter, Gervais battles with his ambition to create something admirable but struggles to overcome his urge for fame. Colliding with a host of superbly performed celeb cameos he finds himself free-falling into mediocrity and is forced to re-arrange his priorities.
This was a 'special', deserved of the title. Gervais rewarded viewers who stuck with him through the previous two series which gave us no plot, no story and over-reliance on star cameos. In Extras, Gervais ambition had always been to communicate his view on the TV and Film industry but, in the series, this message always became diluted.
In the 'Special' the cameos were used sparingly whilst that enforced awkward silence that usually accompanies his work was rarely used. It was out with the dead-air moments and in with themes and story. Gervais performed well, proving himself to be a capable actor at long last, with some excellent dramatic and emotional moments - his final speech particularly resounding, and yes, quite moving too.
What I like about Extras and this special episode is his emphatic case against lazy comedy and cheap gags. He subtly makes numerous digs to Catherine Tate and shows like Hardware.
Though they've taken their time, I believe Gervais and Merchant have finally made their point, or rather, protest against the fame factory. I strongly recommend this, not just as an excellently written comedy but as an engaging piece that examines celebrity culture. It's comedy with something a little extra. Yes, finally, Gervais isn't the one making the cameo!
80 Minutes Special (contains general overview and basic commentary): Andy Millman (Ricky Gervais) in the Series Special is at a crossroads in his life and career. The former movie extra turned successful, albeit self-deprecating, TV actor must decide whether to further compromise his artistic integrity and continue shooting his unsophisticated, obnoxious, and lame-demographic television series. The special literally chronicles the ardent behavior that comes with fame, how one becomes affected, and how one can see past fame by putting oneself outside the joke. The most intriguing moments in the episode's entirety are when Ricky Gervais ponders the general state of being in society, in what is as close to an effective "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore"-moment as you're likely ever to get on television. Maggie is as unsinkable as ever and at her best as Millman's closest friend. Written and directed by Gervais and Stephen Merchant, the Special manages to touch on issues of philosophy, fame, sexuality, and societal behavior in its story's subtext while not detracting from its impressively diverse story arc. For a show that restores one's faith that modern media can produce original, prodding, yet hilarious material, "Extras" at its end is unwittingly at its best (except maybe for Kate Winslet's performance).
I absolutely adored this special. I found it funny, tragic and amazing.
So many details I could reveal, but I think it would be best if I just
said that you must see this if you are a fan. I wanted to address some
commentary about this special other users have made in terms of it not
being too funny, or that people in England really don't talk like Andy
and that there were no jokes, et al. I strongly disagree. This special
is where Darren and Barry nearly upstage Andy, making me think they
should have their own show. I live in Los Angeles-and people actually
are this mean and embarrassing and weird when they speak to each other,
so maybe this is a case of the Brits not understanding their own comedy
and us Americans getting it fully. I do know that Ricky Gervais is a
huge Garry Shandling fan, which could be why his humor may be leaning
towards us getting his more embarrassing, nastier moments. Almost every
word he utters in this special I've heard out of the mouths of actors,
producers, directors and retail people here in Hollywood, no doubt. The
whole incident with the publicist is not only painful, but very very
correct in showing you how actors behave around media. Truly. What I
thought was really excellent was how he brings the series full circle,
focusing on something far more important than fame or money.
And so what if Ricky Gervais is the person he is making fun of. If you are at all miffed by the contradictions between an actor/writer and his creation, may i suggest sticking to documentaries and fairy tales. What ever Ricky's life is outside the show, what is on the screen is funny and poignant, true and stinging- truth be damned.
I love this special. Love it.
Before this finale, I loved Extras, but I did not hold it up there with
the legendary television programs. I thought it was excellent, but if
every show could end with a finale like this the would of television
would be a better place.
First, let it be said that there is not that much comedy to the finale. Some people might have a problem with this, but anyone invested in the characters will be fine. This is not to say that there is no comedy. Wonderful little gags are placed around the "finale" or basically a made-for-TV-movie more than a finale. And the jokes hit their mark very well. Stephen Merchant, scene-stealer of the entire program, has some great scenes, and the only down part of the finale is that he does not have many scenes in it. I know he is a supporting character, but in my opinion he was the funniest character in the show.
But there is little room for Merchant in an episode that spends most of time with Andy and Maggie evaluating their lives. This is the main point of the episode, and I'm not going to give any thing away here, but while many writers over the years have had character tackle this existential question of 'what am i doing with my life?', no one has done it better than these two fellows here. I never thought that a comedy could almost bring me to tears, but this finale did it without feeling like a depressing Oscar story.
Job well done. Every time you expect a cliché plot point to pop up and take the story where every story like this usually goes, they go the other way.
It's even more sad that this is the end of a great television show, but I guess Gervais and Merchant take quality over quantity to heart.
When the Whistle Blows is still drawing in millions on BBC1 but Andy is
closer and closer to breaking point. Seeing his rival successful in
Hollywood, Andy drops his useless agent and takes up with Tre Cooper,
looking for more. Dropping out of his sitcom to pursue more worthy
material however may not be the best move and soon Andy is faced with
hard decisions about his goals. Meanwhile, with no work as an extra
after a run-in with Clive Owen, Maggie settles into menial work and
Deconstructing Harry. If you're a Woody Allen fan and you've seen it then you'll know why I am referring to it here. In that film I was not only laughing but actively shocked at how personal and aggressive Allen seemed to be towards himself and the theme of the film appeared to be self-loathing. With the last ever episode of Extras, Gervais and Merchant appear to be going for the same thing, using their character to attack the celebrity culture in the UK but also managing to deal with the fact that Andy is wanting the fame just as much as he hates what he has to do to get it. At its best it is a searing watching and quite thrilling with it. Those expecting a lot of laughs will be disappointed though because the special produces sporadic laughs rather than anything consistent. I wasn't overly bothered by this though because to me the focus was rightly on the "message".
I want to say "point" but sadly the main weakness of the special is that it is occasionally does get preachy and surprisingly obvious. For example look at the rather clumsy use of music while the characters struggle with their thoughts or situations in a series of clever shots. It will work if you are totally into the moment but for me it just seemed uninspired and flat where so much of it was sharp and insightful. It is the smart writing that keeps the majority from being preachy and it should be commended for this, even if it is still prone to lapses. The cast is starry but Gervais is the star. He shows he is able to do drama as well as comedy and he is genuinely touching at times and credit to him for allowing the writing to damn him and not leave him to one side. Merchant is left to one side although he is funny and entertaining in his sections, working well with the two Eastenders stars. Talking of them actually I was again surprised by how willing everyone was to send themselves up. George Michael and Clive Owen in particular but more cutting were the Big Brother housemates and Hale & pace. Gordon Ramsey was good value too.
Overall then an impacting conclusion to the series that goes out on a very sharp and engaging high. It isn't hilarious and here and there it gets a bit too obvious and preachy for its own good (particularly coming from a man who is looking down at the problem rather than up at it) but mostly it is cutting and intelligent and a fitting end to the series.
I've been a long time fan of Ricky and Steve's works over the past
decade and was anticipating the Xmas Special for quite a while. We all
know it wouldn't have the same emotional and comedic impact as the
Office Christmas Specials, but they did very well.
At 1hr 25, It's not a minute too long or short. We witness the development , rise and eventual fall of Andy, Maggie and Darren and we empathise. Those of you looking for 85 minutes of non stop gags, you won't find it here. The drama of Maggie's unemployment and Darren's working FULL time in the carphone warehouse are dealt with emotionally and sensitively. But, just like the rest of their work, there is A lot of well observed and well written humour.
My personal best moments.
1) The Carphone Warehouse Dance.
2) Clive Owen's cameo.
3) Andy in Dr. Who
Extras The Special (2007, Dir. Ricky Garvais & Stephen Merchant)
Andy Millman (Gervais) is finally no longer an extra and has his own sitcom, but still, Andy is not happy with everything. Whilst his long-term friend, Maggie (Jensen) struggles to earn a living from any job she can get, Andy still wants to be famous amongst the A-List stars, even if it means cutting back on a few things, including close friends.
Whilst the jokes may not be up to par as the series, the final 'Extras' is a worthy finale which has not only some well written comedy but a wonderful and emotional end to Andy's and Maggie's long road. Andy's final speech is rightly deserved.
I saw you was in Doctor Who as a slug. Very convincing. - Greg Lindley Jones (Shaun Pye)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
So good I watched it twice! I have never seen "Extras" before but
nonetheless I had no problem working out what was going on. The
sinister thing is that I actually found Andy Millman in his comedy
persona quite funny. The scenes between him and Maggie became quite
moving as the show went on. Excellent writing as one would expect from
the Gervais-Merchant team and a bewilderingly eclectic collection of
celebrity cameos and not-so-cameos.
Ashley Jensen as Maggie is of course the moral and emotional centre of the piece. The device of Maggie watching him on telly was sublime.
So nice that people (including some celebrities) in the UK can still send themselves up! Are you listening America?
Minor niggle: why pretend to be in The Ivy when they weren't?
This was the worst ever episode of Extras and a particularly feel-bad
Gervais appears to be able to set up a series which is brilliant and then let it disintegrate well before the end (the second series of The Office was many times worse than the first). Although constantly watchable, this was dismal stuff. Extras is meant to be a comedy this wasn't funny and barely tried to be. What was the point of having the characters' lives collapse? What was achieved by it other than to be depressing?
How bad it looked to have Ricky Gervais, a rich and famous person who hangs out with the Heat crew and loves wealth and fame, to tell us how awful it all is. His criticisms carried no weight at all. He came across as a whining, joyless, navel-gazing, self-indulgent misanthrope.
One other thing that should be noted about Gervais shows is this: his characters do not act like normal people would in terms of considering others' feelings. People, particularly the English middle class, are incredibly sensitive to how the other person feels and go out of their way to not offend. In Gervais shows they do the opposite. To cite just one example, the Clive Owen character saying what he said in front of that female extra is simply not credible. No one is that nasty to another's face.
When so many of your characters behave in non-realistic ways, the show is robbed of its verisimilitude and ability to make us laugh through tapping into our everyday experiences. That and the fact that there were no virtually no jokes in it made Extras a show which ended with a miserable whimper.
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