Closer to a full length movie than another episode of a highly successful TV series, "Extras - The Special" is a funny, superbly acted and, in the end, genuinely thought provoking exploration of what TV fame is all about.
As in the two preceding series Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant, Ashley Jensen and the wonderful "Barry" are a brilliantly effective comic combination but, unlike many other "specials" which simply re-tread what's gone before, they take their roles and their stories to much deeper levels that provide real insights into how the successes & failures of what's served up on our TVs each night impact on those involved. Bitingly critical of the whole celebrity bandwagon and, probably, closer to the truth than we'd like to believe, the trick - which they pull-off wholly successfully - is to make us laugh at its excesses while making us question the sanity of what's going on in a business where "fame" has become an end in itself, where people will do anything to get it & keep it, and where broken dreams litter the floor.
And, as in the previous episodes but in this case even more pointedly, the celebrities they wheel in for their cameo turns seem oblivious to the self-parody of their roles - witness Lionel Blair's and George Michael's appearances which beg the question whether they're so desperate to get exposure in a high ratings show such as "Extras" that they're prepared to allow themselves to be degraded in this manner... which, of course, is exactly the point that Gervais & Merchant are making.
Black comedy doesn't get any better than this and, in addition to being a superb way to end an already excellent series, "The Special" is, on its own, a highly effective and very funny insight into people's aspirations & motivations in a very strange world that, thankfully or not, most of us will never experience.