Ricky Gervais’ series Extras came along in the wake of his massively popular hit The Office (and yes, I do plan on doing an Office post later on), and as such it was hard to tell whether we were still under The Office’s spell, or if Extras was a great show in its own right. Extras sees Gervais in the straight man role as a movie extra who aspires to be a real actor. Through this premise we get some great supporting characters, such as his best friend Maggie and his agent Darren, and we get a premise which is easy to pin noticeable celebrity cameos onto.
Lets face it, the celebrity guest spots are really what makes this series stand out. The main concept is perfect for introducing them in a way which doesn’t seem forced, and once they are there Gervais and fellow writer Stephen Merchant are able to do some hilarious things with them. They were able to turn Daniel Radcliffe into a petulant child who is over-eager to appear grown up, convert the noble Patrick Stewart into a voyeuristic pervert, and give Kate Winslet the foulest mouth within 5 miles.
And while these guest performances are absolutely hilarious and are probably responsible for most of the audience coming to the show, there is more going on here. The heart of the show is really the relationship between Andy and Maggie. Andy has a problem with an over-inflating ego, and Maggie is the neutralizer which keeps him in reality in her own absent-minded way. So even though you know that Andy is a complete prick, seeing him through Maggie’s innocent eyes means that you care about him anyways. Besides, if he wasn’t such a prick, we wouldn’t get half of the amazingly hilarious bits this show has to offer.
Season 1 – In true British fashion, Extras had a short run with short seasons. Each of its two seasons have had only six episodes, each of which are centered around certain guest stars. The first season follows Andy and Maggie as movie extras who work alongside starts such as Kate Winslet, Ben Stiller and Samuel L. Jackson. In each case, the stars play some extreme version of themselves. Ben Stiller is an egomaniac while Kate Winslet has an incredibly dirty mind and gives Maggie phone sex advice. Two episodes are sort of duds, especially the Les Paul episode, but oh well.
While the episodes do have the guest stars, they still manage to give a lot of focus to the two lead characters and their relationship. Andy is never satisfied as an Extra while Maggie struggles with juvenile behaviour getting in the way of things for both her and Andy.
The highlight of this season is the season finale with Patrick Stewart. Not only does it show some advancement in Andy’s story as well as tell the the most dramatic story so far between he and Maggie, but it also has one of the greatest guest star appearances of all time; Patrick Stewart. Seriously, you have to check it out. “They fell right off.”
Season 2 – Season two may be even slightly better than the first, mostly because the guest appearances are really great. Orlando Bloom appears in the first episode and tries to seduce Maggie a clear inferiority complex caused by Johnny Depp. Danial Radcliffe has a hilarious turn as a petulant child actor trying to prove he’s grown up by smoking and owning a condom, in what is probably the highlight episode of the season. And Ian MacKellan’s speech about acting is pure brilliance; even if the rest of his particular episode falls flat.
What also makes this a stronger season is Andy’s transition from being an extra to having his own television show and dealing with minor celebrity fame. What’s great is that his TV show i absolutely terrible, and he knows it. Its definitely Gervais’ cautionary tail about what The Office could have become had the studio fiddled with it too much. This provides for some great commentary on the industry.
Christmas Special – Just as the Office did, Extras came back to conclude the series with a Christmas Special.This special sees Andy developing a rift between he and his friends as his fame grows. But as he starts to lose a grip on his fame, he joins celebrity Big Brother which puts things into perspective for him.
In true Extras fashion, we get a great celebrity cameo, this time from Clive Owen playing up the insensitive celebrity jerk. We also get some great stuff between Andy and Maggie. However, the Big Brother stuff goes on for far too long (even though he does have a great speech at the end), leaving this special much more limp than the finale of The Office did.
Ranking of the Seasons:
Favourite Character – For my favourite character, I’m simply going with the funniest; Andy’s absent-minded agent Darren Lamb. Played by Gervais’ longtime writing partner Stephen Merchant with brilliant comedic poise, the agent’s scenes are some of the funniest the show has ever produced. They often manage to outshine the celebrity scenes as well. I don’t know, there just seems to be something about talent agents as funny characters on TV shows; first Ari, now Darren Lamb, and another character in a show which may be showing up soon in this segment. (hint: New Zealand: Why not?)
Final Thoughts – Extras is a very good show, but is it a great one? The Office is undoubtedly great, though perhaps its successor does fall a little short. There are times when the show can feel disjointed between the cameos and Andy’s actual storyline. And even with only a dozen episodes, they still manage to have a couple which just really don’t work, such as the Les Paul episode and most of the Ian McKellen episode. But it also has some incredibly funny moments, like the restaurant scene, the water bottle incident, and the prayer meeting. This really is a comedic goldmine which you should check out if you like celebrities making fun of themselves and characters getting themselves into wildly inappropriate and awkward situations.