The only thing I knew about Extras as of a couple of weeks ago was that Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant were behind the show, the follow-up to their cult hit The Office, which has been adapted into a Steve Carell vehicle to showcase his talent. Seeing very little on The Office and not being familiar with Gervais’ work, I downloaded the first episode of the second season of Extras from iTunes (Season Two recently resumed airing on HBO), and I found it one of the funnier things I’ve seen in recent memory, and not just because it didn’t cost me anything.
Gervais plays Andy, a background artist who has appeared in numerous films through the years, and with the company of his friend Maggie (Ashley Jensen, Ugly Betty) and his truly unprofessional agent (played by Merchant), who seems to always stay out of touch with Andy and gives his roles to other people.
In Andy, Gervais creates a guy who is trying to make it big, but sometimes will go to any lengths to do it. If he’s not making fun of a young woman with cerebral palsy, he’s talking to the widower from a Serbian massacre to see if he can get some lines in a movie about his life that Ben Stiller is directing. It’s clear that the uncomfortable bits remain, and may be better than in The Office, but Andy’s spinelessness is a bit more visible here and it seems a little more forgivable here than before.
The other funny thing is the cameos. Sure, the easy thing would have been to cast a face every week, have them say a clever thing or two and then bolt, but to put them in the thick of things and make them more of a “regular voice” works a lot better than any other way. It’s kind of like a celebrity appearance by anyone from the old Larry Sanders Show days, but to hear Kate Winslet talk about metaphors for phone sex while wearing a nun’s habit and smoking a cigarette, you’re not going to get more varied or off the wall than that.
When it’s firing on all cylinders, Extras may be the funniest thing on TV these days, There’s little of the proverbial dry British humor in it, the awkward humor Gervais seems to perfect has been retained, and each episode has got enough laughs to generate tears from anyone who watches it. It’s well worth the time and additional money to shell out for the HBO subscription.
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, Extras isn’t as sharp looking as its original HD broadcasts, but it’s still pretty solid. I can’t believe I’m going to say this part, but there is no real bleed or other issues with things like the large Nazi banners, and black levels are pretty consistent.
A two channel stereo mix, but one that handles the dialogue pretty clear, and Cat Stevens’ “Tea for the Tillerman” hasn’t sounded any better than this. Kudos to all involved.
Well, no commentary from Gervais or Merchant, but deleted scenes and outtakes are included for each episode of the season’s small six episode run. The deleted scenes are all pretty quick and easy (one or two for each episode), while the outtakes are longer and moderately funnier, as Gervais really takes a lot to hold a facial expression. This material is on both discs. On the second disc exclusively, “Finding Leo” documents the long and unsuccessful efforts of trying to secure an appearance by Leonardo DiCaprio through mutual acquaintance Sacha Baron Cohen. This piece is captured on camera by Merchant and it’s a little surreal, but worth a chuckle or two. And “The Difficult Second Album” is a look at the making of the series hosted by the pair that’s also kind of funny and includes their thoughts and opinions on it. They discuss how they secured the stars, and footage of the stars on set is included. And some plugs for the boys’ last project is here too.
OK nevermind, Extras is the funniest thing on TV now. I only wish it was on more, but at least you can play this DVD over and over again to see just how good it is. Though there are no commentaries, the extras are quick but still pretty funny, and the show has a lot of hilarious moments that make it a must-watch for any fan of comedy. Shell out the extra $10 and start watching the show now, and buy Season One of Extras now.