|Extras: Season Two (2007)
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Ashley Jensen, Stephen Merchant
Director: Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant
Who knew a show about film extras could be so much better when it wasn’t just about the titular background artists, but rather the entertainment business as a whole? That seems to be the most notable change in the second season of “Extras,” the highly underrated HBO/BBC comedy series. While the first season introduced us to a man with virtually no future in sight, the second season grants him a sudden stroke of good luck and fame. Fortunately, none of these changes are for the worse, and though the series was a success within the confines of a studio backlot, it’s far more effective when released into the world of award shows and nightclub hotspots.
At the end of season one, wannabe actor Andy Millman (Ricky Gervais) had just signed a contract with the BBC to turn his pilot script, “When the Whistle Blows,” into a weekly comedy series. As season two begins, we discover that it’s not going exactly as he planned. While Andy is serving as both writer and co-star on the series, the direction of the show has drastically changed from witty office comedy to the kind of broad, blue-collar drivel best known for catch phrases like “Are you having a laugh?” Andy quickly becomes torn between his newfound stardom and the notion of selling out for fame, because although the show has been panned by the critics, it remains one of the top-rated programs on television, earning Andy a nomination for his performance as the curly-haired factory manager.
While the first season of the series felt incredibly uneven (where showcasing guest stars became more important than actual plot or character development), season two quickly remedies this by giving Andy serious issues to deal with. Though he wants nothing more than to carve himself a place in entertainment history, Andy’s sacrifices to stay on television eventually begin to wear on his good-natured character. Of course, his sudden thrust into the spotlight also causes some truly embarrassing moments, from his accidental “fight” with Willow himself, Warwick Davis, to getting a lifetime ban from the BAFTAs.
Always a comedic force when performing his own material, Gervais is at the top of his game yet again. Although Ashley Jensen (who plays Andy's bumbling friend, Maggie) plays a much smaller role in the second season, she continues to be an integral part in the success of the show. Equally as important is Stephen Merchant, whose Agent character has been given more room to develop in the second year. Still, while the trio alone makes for a great series (not to mention Shaun Williamson, whose performance as Barry is not to be ignored), the incredible lineup of guest stars (including Orlando Bloom, Daniel Radcliffe and Sir Ian McKellan) remains one of the best reasons to tune in each week. It’s too bad Gervais and Merchant chose to implement the same exit strategy as they did with “The Office,” because I’m sure everyone would agree: we were all having a laugh.
Special Features: While we patiently await the rumored special that will wrap up the series, HBO has rushed the second season to DVD in grand fashion. Supplementing the final six episodes is a fine collection of special features ranging from outtakes to short featurettes on the “Art of Corpsing” (when actors ruin takes with laughter) and behind-the-scenes pranks (“Taping Nigel: The Gimpening”). The highlight of the set, however, is the six-part making-of featurette, “Extras Backstage,” that documents the production of every episode with cast and crew interviews, additional outtakes and more.