Extras series one
It’s all too easy to dismiss actors as soulless parasites living off the hard work of others – that’s what they are after all.
Warped, insecure and self-obsessed, they are at once vulnerable freaks and shameless narcissists.
Little wonder that Ricky Gervais chose the profession as a vehicle to continue his masterful dissection of the quiet despair, pride and delusion of the working man.
“You wonder what comedy Utopia people are living in that this gets a rough ride from them”
Extras has received a mixed reception on the Internet forums which Aerial Telly finds baffling as this is very smart, funny stuff. You wonder what comedy Utopia people are living in that this gets a rough ride from them. The performances are spot-on, many laugh out loud lines and a continuation of some of the most inventive comedy of recent times from Gervais and Merchant.
Gervais plays Andy Millman, a deluded extras actor (or “background artiste”) who insists on referring to himself as a “proper actor”. His best friend Maggie, brilliantly played by Ashley Jensen, is as inadequate as him – anxious, paranoid and utterly selfish, she careers through life trying not to offend anyone and fails dismally.
There is a bit of Brent in Andy but there is a bit of Brent in everyone. Some people only ever saw Basil Fawlty when they saw John Cleese act – it goes with the territory of capturing an aspect of the human condition as perfectly as Gervais did with David Brent.
Disability figures largely in Gervais’s comedy – he once said that if you fancy a bet, always choose The Paralympics – because “they’re all winners”.
Extras continues in this vein. He seems to have effortlessly broken this taboo by focusing on able-bodied people’s reactions to disability. That mixture of awkwardness, guilt and hostility that the able-bodied feel around the disabled is nailed time and time again.
Co writer Stephen Merchant puts in a stellar turn as the world’s worst agent, sending out a pleading CV on behalf of Andy:
1996 to 1999 Andy Millman worked at the Nat West in Wokingham. He left this comfortable, adequately paid job to try and become an actor, despite his age, weight and looks.
Andy claims to be a great actor but has not yet had the chance to prove it because so far he’s had no offers except ‘extra’ work, which as you know is pointless and badly paid.
Acting is Andy’s dream. If you can make that dream come true please, please call.
“Like a letter to Jim’ll Fix It” is Andy’s memorable precis.
The star cameos are what gets most of the attention and are probably the weakest part of Extras. Ben Stiller features as a tyrannical Hollywood industry operator, Ross Kemp as a hopeless SAS fantasist and Kate Winslet as a smut-spouting careerist.
They have their moments but there’s a sense of them being a little too keen to be seen as game-for-a-laugh. We naturally think they can’t be like that because they’re showing the self-awareness that they might be like that.
“Getting your celebrity chums in to give them a ribbing is but a heartbeat away from Tarby and mates on the golf course”
So the comedy loses its subversive edge. Getting your celebrity chums in to give them a ribbing is but a heartbeat away from Tarby and mates on the golf course. What stops it becoming like this, though, is Les Dennis who steals the series portraying himself as a washed-up entertainer, living off former glories.
He even plays the cuckold to Amanda Holden lookalike Simone, who shags the stagehand while Les desperately phones Heat magazine to get himself in the “Celebrities Spotted” column.
This is incredibly near-the-knuckle stuff, mirroring his own public humiliation at the hands of his trophy wife with the guy from the Homebase adverts who apparently isn’t shagging Lesley Ash in the same way that Lee Chapman isn’t beating her.
Close to home doesn’t cover it. You feel like you’re intruding upon some private grief. This is British comedy at the moment. Dark, twisted and consumed with self-loathing. Nobody does it better.
The best thing about it: The symbiotic relationship between Andy and Maggie.
The worst thing about it: Star cameos which come in a little under written.
The verdict on Extras: A worthy follow-up, despite what you might read.
Marks out of 10: 8