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Extras: The Complete Series 1 & 2  [DVD]
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The entire series 1 and 2 of the BBC comedy from Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, following the humiliations of professional film extra Andy Millman (Gervais) and his eccentric friend Maggie (Ashley Jensen) as they try - and fail - to gain significant lines or parts in various productions. A host of famous actors including Kate Winslet, Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro send themselves up in cameo roles.
Both series of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchants triumphant Extras are united in this box, and with nothing more than a Yuletide special planned beyond these episodes, its a great chance to catch up with this star-packed, offbeat programme.
Unlike their previous The Office, Gervais and Merchant have delivered a less accessible but no less rewarding programme with Extras. It starts with Andy Millman, a background artist, sitting in the shadows of a variety of different shows, before, in the second series, he gets his own spot in the limelight.
Whats helped characterise the series, of course, has been the continued presence of star names in cameo roles. These range from Hollywood bigshots--Samuel L Jackson, Kate Winslet and Harry Pott.., sorry, Daniel Radcliffe--and continue through to familiar faces from British TV--step forward Les Dennis, Ross Kemp and Barry from EastEnders. Most of the plaudits, though, rightly go in the direction of the splendid Ashley Jensen, who emerges as the most likeable and rounded of all the shows characters.
Theres little danger, it seems, that Extras will dethrone The Office from the top of its creators CVs, but thanks to its strong writing, its measured mix between melancholy and amusement, and some superb performances, it more than carves a very strong niche for itself. --Jon FosterSee all Product description
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So if you want all 13 episodes and not just 12, buy the other BBC collection with the white cover.
Andy Millman (Gervais) and Maggie Jacobs (Ashley Jenson) are film extras -- Andy is embittered by his lack of success and his inept agent (Stephen Merchant, Gervais' work partner), while well-meaning Maggie merely pursues a series of crew members on the films they work in.
The first episode features the two working in a biopic directed by a brusque Ben Stiller ("Would you stop going on about your f**king dead wife?"), and Andy gets himself kicked off the set. Their blunders continue with other stars: Kate Winslet in a nun costume, who teaches Maggie how to talk dirty to her new boyfriend ("I'd love it if you stuck your Willy Wonka in between my Oompa-Loompas!"); Samuel L. Jackson, and Patrick Stewart, who is writing a movie about psychkinesis and naked women.
And in the second season, Andy gets his Big Break -- BBC2 is producing his sitcom "When the Whistle Blows," but they dumb it down until it's popular but critically lambasted. Meanwhile, he and Maggie tangle with a bunch of new celebs -- the arrogant woman-chasing Daniel Radcliffe and Orlando Bloom, self-promoting Chris Martin, a hostile David Bowie, and Andy even stars in a play of Ian McKellen's about gay love (much to his discomfort).
Part of the genius of "Extras" is that it isn't much like any other showbiz parodies -- the lead characters are on the lowest rung of acting, and the big egos are real stars making fun of themselves. Sometimes they play really nasty versions of themselves, such as Winslet saying that she's only making a Holocaust film so she can FINALLY nab an Oscar.
The other half of the comic genius is Gervais' direction, with most of the jokes based on socially awkward situations. It's all about cringing and giggling at once, such as when Andy's pals see him pantsless in Ian McKellen's dressing room. Those hideously embarrassing situations -- usually with some hilarious dialogue involving the star guests (Bowie's "little fat man/nobody's laughing" song is a gutsplitter) are what it's all about.
Gervais underplays a sort of befuddled, cynical extra, but you can really connect with his struggles, even when he gets his own sitcom. No matter what, Andy can always be depended on to jam foot in mouth, and occasionally to attack Warwick Davis. Jensen is clumsily charming as Maggie, who tries to be nice to everyone but says all the wrong things at the wrong time, when she's not being pursued by Orlando Bloom or offending Samuel Jackson.
The two seasons are "Extras" are uproariously funny, barbed looks at the strange world of showbiz, with the self-parodying actors as the final perfect touch.
The Office relied on awkward, embarrassing humour, and Extras is no different. It's where the writers talents obviously lie, and Gervais is terrific at playing the lead role.
However, before I get into describing the shows many positives, a few negative comments to balance things out.
The show isn't quite as good as it could have been. It is a very funny show, but laughs are sometimes hard to come by. A major reason for this is the portrayal of Gervais' lead character, Andy Millman. In The Office, Gervais' David Brent character was socially awkward, embarrassing, and unjustifiably egotistical but he was blissfully unaware of this, so it was easy and enjoyable to laugh at him. Andy Millman is in awkward and embarrassing situations too. But he's a more humane character, and crucially, he knows how embarrassing he's being, or how embarrassing he's being made to look. It's difficult to laugh at him - it feels a little cruel. It'd be easier to laugh at him if he was unaware of how he was. You end up feeling a little sorry for him, and that's how the biggest recipe for laughs.
Having said all that, there are still plenty of funny moments, and it only manages to drop the show 1 star in my review. Gervais plays the character well, and despite the celebrity stars (who are huge names, the likes of Samuel L Jackson, Kate Winslet, Orlando Bloom, Robert de Niro and Ben Stiller make appearances), the majority of the episodes focus on the developing relationships between Millman and his agent, or Millman and his best friend Maggie.
Maggie, played by the fantastic Ashley Jensen, finds it easier to generate laughs. She is blissfully unaware of how funny she is. The agent Darren Lamb, played by a surprisingly excellent on-camera Stephen Merchant (off-camera, his writing is typically terrific) is also hapless and socially inept and is living in his own little world, and those two characters steal the show from Gervais. They generate all the laughs, and tellingly, one of the funniest brief scenes is the "date" scene, featuring just Maggie and Darren.
In summary, Extras is a worthwhile and worthy follow up to the incomparable Office, in which the celebrities do add a little something to each episode without detracting from it, the juxtaposition of seeing someone like "Harry Potter" Daniel Radcliffe flicking a condom onto Dame Diana Rigg's head is entertaining and unique, and the standout performances from Ashley Jensen and Stephen Merchant make this an excellent series to own on DVD.
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