Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 6, 2007)
No one can accuse Ricky Gervais of overstaying his welcome. His series Extras debuted with its first season in 2005 – and finished up not too long later. Two seasons and out – that’s it for Extras!
Given that both seasons combined only present 12 episodes, it becomes tough to tire of the world of Extras. I enjoyed S1 quite a lot, so I looked forward to S2. I’ll look at all six episodes of Extras Season Two here. The plot synopses come straight from the show’s official website.
Episode One: Orlando Bloom: “Maggie (Ashley Jensen) gets a background part as a juror in a ridiculous courtroom drama, which stars Orlando Bloom as a handsome barrister. Watching the actor get accosted by female fans, Maggie sympathizes. ‘Must be exhausting...especially 'cause they're just doing it ‘cause you're famous’. Orlando insists his good looks are the draw, then carries on about how much more popular he is than Johnny Depp. Maggie doesn't buy it.
“A jittery Andy (Gervais) calls Maggie from the set of his sitcom, which was picked up and dumbed down by the network. His agent tries to assure him that ‘crass, lowest common denominator’ comedy gets the biggest ratings. When a lead actor drops out, claiming the show is ‘too broad’, the network replaces him with a daft TV presenter (Keith Chegwin), sending Andy over the edge.”
Season Two picks up where Season One left off – almost literally. That means mostly more of the same, though of course, Andy’s in a different place, as he manages his own show instead of acting as an extra in the work of others.
That doesn’t mean a change in tone, though. Andy still must deal with the indignities that come with his new lot in life, and none of this seems to make him any happier. We also continue to see the world of the movie extra through Maggie’s situation.
A couple of jokes lose something in the translation from across the pond, but not too many. The gag about funny black Brits falls flat due to a reference to a performer I don’t recognize, and the use of TV host Chegwin doesn’t impact me because I have no idea who he is. That said, we can figure out his position in the show biz spectrum pretty well, and his moments become very funny.
Bloom’s guest turn seems a bit predictable, as he plays the egotistical movie star. Those bits still amuse, though, even when they lead to a somewhat dopey conclusion. E1 suffers from a couple parts that seem a little too “sit-com” for my liking, but it mostly works well and starts off S2 on a good note.
Episode Two: David Bowie: “The reviews are in for Andy's new sitcom, and they're unanimous: ‘Worst sitcom of all time’, exclaims one. ‘Miserable wretches dying slowly’, surmises another. ‘Makes you want to gouge out your own eyes rather than watch one more minute’, weighs in a third.
“To make matters worse, he's starting to get recognized by the rabble -- drunken blokes straight out of The Hills Have Eyes, hostile self-declared critics, and even a homeless guy who seems likely to tell the world about Andy's begrudging charity. Just when he finally gets a little respect - entrance into the VIP section of a hip lounge - Andy's ushered back out the second David Bowie arrives…”
Since Bowie is my favorite musical artist, I looked forward to E2. Happily, the show delivers, even though it’s more offbeat than usual. Unlike every prior episode of Extras, this one doesn’t spend a minute on a set of any sort. Instead, it follows reactions to Andy’s series and his attempts to deal with his new fame. This doesn’t go well and result in Bowie’s composition of a tune about Andy. That part’s hilarious, and the rest of the show amuses as well. Throw in an inspired confrontation with a homeless guy and this turns into a terrific show.
Episode Three: Daniel Radcliffe: “In spite of his feckless agent (Stephen Merchant), Andy is offered a speaking part in a Daniel Radcliffe film. He also lands Maggie some extra work - and an eager young suitor, Harry Potter himself. Dressed in a Scout's uniform for his latest role, the actor comes on strong, telling Maggie he's ‘done it with a girl, intercourse-wise’ before his mother interrupts and drags him off. Returning later to close the deal, Daniel shows Andy the super-sized condom he's unrolled for the occasion, then accidentally flings it onto the head of Dame Diana Rigg.
“To celebrate his new status as a film star, Andy takes Maggie to a high-end restaurant, where he complains about the loud noises coming from a kid behind them - unaware that the boy has Down's syndrome. The media has a field day, and soon Andy is being accused of attacking the boy and punching his mother.”
Possibly the series’ most notorious episode, this one boasts a hilarious attempt by Radcliffe to poke holes in his wholesome image. He whoops it up as Horny Potter and creates this show’s best moments. The politically incorrect gags about “little people” also work well. Unfortunately, the story line about Andy’s “assault” on the Down Syndrome kid becomes less positive. It follows predictable lines in terms of the foibles of fame. This is still a nice program, though; how often do you get to see Diana Rigg with a condom on her head?
By the way, stick around through the completion of the end credits. You’ll find a funny coda to this episode there.
Episode Four: Chris Martin: “Andy tapes his first celebrity public service announcement - for clean drinking water in Africa - and meets an actual celebrity: Chris Martin. Spotting Andy, Martin asks about the size of his sitcom audience, then suggests he should make an appearance.
“As it turns out, the rock star is ‘popping by’ the factory to promote his latest album, and the workers on When the Whistle Blows beg him to perform a song - which he does as the factory suddenly converts into a fully-lit concert venue. Andy cringes from the sidelines.
“As he predicted, the TV critics aren't kind, claiming his show has sunk even lower. His agent does have some good news, however: Andy's been nominated for a comedy BAFTA, and the entries ‘are all crap this year’, so he might even have a chance.”
I recognize that the series’ use of guest stars has become predictable, as they always come on and do something that makes them look bad. However, that doesn’t mean the formula fails to remain amusing, and Martin’s turn works awfully well, largely because of the idiotic way Martin gets worked into When the Whistle Blows. We also get a funny subversion of a famous Pretty Woman scene. The BAFTA stuff suffers some from the “across the Atlantic” translation factor, but this still is a solid episode.
Oh, and look for another post-credits clip here.
Episode Five: Ian McKellen: “With the critics still dumping on his sitcom, Andy begs Darren to find him something that will earn him some respect, like theater. Thanks to another client, Barry, Darren hears about a play Ian McKellen is directing, and lands Andy an audition.
“On the set of When the Whistle Blows, Andy gets a surprise visit from an old classmate, Steve Sherwood (Jonathan Cake), the ‘coolest kid in school’. Now a ruggedly handsome grownup, Sherwood tells Maggie and Darren they always thought Andy was gay in school, and the two do nothing to dispel the theory.
“Andy is excited for his audition with Ian McKellen - until he learns that the character who plays his lover, Fran, is actually a guy. ‘Gay is all the rage’, Darren assures him, convincing him it will show his range and anoint him a serious actor.”
Rather than present the Egotistical Guest Star, here McKellen goes for the Stupid Guest Star. That’s the less-used variation but it’s just as amusing, especially when McKellen presents his acting instructions. Unfortunately, E5 telegraphs some of its bits; when we see issues related to homosexuality, a few inevitable gags result. It’s still funny, of course, but a little less inventive than usual.
Episode Six: ??????: “On the talk show circuit, Jonathan Ross asks Andy if there's anyone he'd die to work with, and Andy picks Robert De Niro. ‘Challenge accepted’, the host says, claiming he can hook Andy up with the legend. In the Green Room, the mother (Regina Freedman) of a sick boy (Corey J. Smith) railroads Andy into visiting her son in the hospital.
“Maggie is excited to go home with her handsome new date (Paul Albertson)… until she discovers he still lives with his parents. When she tries to tell Andy about her horrific date, he has no time to hear it -- he's too busy working and hanging out with his new famous buddy, Jonathan Ross, who's invited him to ride in his convertible, play with his robot toys and loll around his estate. After another frustrating conversation with his agent, Andy tells is fed up: if Darren can't get a meeting with De Niro before Andy does, he's fired.”
Series-ending episodes are difficult to pull off, and parts of E6 falter. Andy becomes a prick awfully abruptly; it doesn’t make sense that he all of a sudden completely blows off Maggie and whatnot. The interjection of the sick kid subplot also doesn’t feel very natural; it pops in without fitting the show terribly well.
Despite those misfires, E6 manages to conclude the series on a reasonably satisfying note. It doesn’t live up to the show’s best programs, but it comes around in an enjoyable way. Heck, E6 would be worth a look just to see Robert De Niro delight over a nudie pen.