In the wake of Ricky Gervais’ recent show Derek (2012), I thought I would go back and take a look at his previous work – starting firstly with Extras (2005).
Due to the resounding success of The Office (2001), Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant teamed up again to direct and co-write their next sitcom.
Synopsis: Andy Millman (Gervais) is a wannabe actor who works as an extra along with his friend Maggie Jacobs (Ashley Jensen). The show chronicles Andy’s progression from extra to star of his own sitcom, and how his life changes as a result.
Throughout the first series, the viewer is introduced to Andy’s world – standing in the background, and the longing for actually having a speaking role within something. Andy is in his forties, and lives alone. He has not been successful so far, and the same can be said for Maggie. Maggie is in her thirties, and her life draws parallels with Andy. She lives alone, is single, and has been very unsuccessful romantically.
Each episode contains a special guest (mainly a Hollywood star), and Andy and Maggie collide with these guests in different ways. From Ben Stiller to Kate Winslet, to Robert DeNiro, the show is not short on household names.
Lesser known faces also feature in the show, but do not disappoint with their performances. My favourite episode out of the two series was the one featuring Ross Kemp and Vinnie Jones.
Ricky Gevais deservedly won an Emmy for his portrayal of Andy, and is great throughout. Andy is smart and likeable, but at times loses his way due to his rising fame. Maggie, however, is my favourite character throughout the whole show. She gets a lot of the best lines, and is extremely funny in her naivety. This makes her very cute because she always has the best intentions despite constantly putting her foot in it. She is very childlike and this makes her charming. Ashley Jensen is very impressive, and it is not surprising she was nominated for an Emmy as a result.
The rest of the supporting cast are also good. Stephen Merchant plays Millman’s terrible agent Darren Lamb. Throughout the show, Lamb lands Millman in difficult situations and does his career more good than bad at times. Shaun Williamson (best known for playing Barry from British soap Eastenders (1985)) is one of Darren’s only clients and pretty much plays himself. They have a very weird relationship together, but display some nice onscreen chemistry.
The whole show seems to be making a number of statements on celebrity culture. A lot of what happens is a result of Gervais and Merchant’s own experiences, and this ultimately injects the show with a lot of realism. As the old saying goes, “write what you know” and the pair certainly do.
A lot of the comedy comes from issues that people seem uncomfortable with in contemporary society – disability, race and sexuality. This is where the most laughs arise because when characters like Andy and Maggie are put into these situations, then the results are hilarious.
I have heard many differing opinions about Extras and The Office – some like one and not the other or even vice versa. They do differ in format (one is in mockumentary format and the other more traditional format), and both are completely different subject matters. However, both were very enjoyable and I thoroughly recommend this.
By Robert Spence