|Extras: Season One (2005)
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Ashley Jensen, Stephen Merchant
Director: Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant
You’ve just created one of the greatest comedy series on television. Your show has won numerous awards, gained unrivaled critical praise, and even managed to make history as the first UK sitcom to ever win a Golden Globe, but after only two seasons on the air (and a much-needed Christmas special providing fans with a proper ending), you’re packing up and saying goodbye. What exactly does one do next? You begin production on your next project of course, but as co-creator Ricky Gervais was quick to point out, “Extras” was “the show that some critics [were] already calling the disappointing follow-up to ‘The Office’.” Partly kidding, but entirely accurate, Gervais (who co-wrote and produced the new BBC/HBO series with partner Stephen Merchant) was facing the biggest challenge of his career: proof that he wasn’t just a one-hit wonder.
Although comparisons to “The Office” were inevitable, “Extras” holds its own as a far more mainstream piece of British wit, once again highlighting Gervais’ knack for alienating those around him. Much like Larry David’s television alter-ego on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Gervais’ Andy Millman is a far more accurate representation of the comedian than the over-the-top “Office” boss, David Brent. In the show, Andy spends his days working as a “background artist” (for the London film scene, and while he attempts to justify his lack of exposure by claiming that some actors are just plain lucky, Andy could probably count the number of lines he’s ever had on one hand. Joining him in the hilarious behind-the-scenes world of British cinema is his dim-witted best friend Maggie (Ashley Jensen) and his boorish agent (played by Stephen Merchant).
While the first season of the series ran for only six episodes (a common practice in British TV) “Extras” is still one of the funniest shows on television. Gervais is hilarious as usual, as is relative newcomer Jensen (the cute-as-a-button Scot who can now be seen on the popular ABC dramedy, “Ugly Betty”), but a majority of the laughs come from the show’s guest stars. Structuring each story around a different production, Gervais has designed a near-flawless system in which he can parody just about any facet of the entertainment industry that he damn well pleases. In the first episode of the series, Kate Winslet reveals her belief that only controversial roles (like “handicaps and mentals”) win Oscars, while Ben Stiller appears later on as a narcissistic Hollywood asshole. The best cameo by far, however, is Patrick Stewart as a sex-obsessed actor with an interesting idea for a movie: “For instance, I might be walking along and see a beautiful girl and think 'I wish I could see her naked'... and so her clothes fall off." That, my television viewing friends, is pure comedy gold, and it’s a damn shame that somebody hasn’t been able to convince Gervais and Merchant to produce more than six episodes a season.With the second season premiere just around the corner, HBO has finally released the first six episodes of the series in a two-disc box set, and while the premium channel is infamous for supplementing their DVDs with little to no special features, “Extras: Season One” is positively swimming with bonus material that includes seven deleted scenes, 18 minutes of outtakes, a short featurette (“Finding Leo”) on how Gervais went about replacing Jude Law as a guest star (hint: they finally cast Orlando Bloom in the role, though the episodes didn’t air until the second season) and a behind-the-scenes featurette (“The Difficult Second Album”) discussing the ins and outs of creating a worthy follow-up. All in all, not a bad lot of extras for a show that has yet to earn the recognition it deserves, and while “Extras” will never duplicate the kind of success that made “The Office” an international hit, it’s doing just fine on its own.