from Blogcritics.org / by Ian Woolstencroft
Ricky Gervais’s comedy series Extras made a welcome return to British TV screens on Thursday 14 September (HBO have yet to set a date for the US). The series follows the misadventures of Andy Millman and Maggie Jacobs, two would-be actors who, despite their best efforts, can’t seem to rise above the level of extra.
Or can they? The end of last season saw Andy sell the idea for a sitcom to the BBC and this episode picks up pretty much where we left off, with the first episode of When the Whistle Blows about to be filmed in front of a live studio audience.
Yet things are not as bright as they may seem for Andy. The BBC wants alterations to his work of comic genius to broaden its appeal and then there are last minute cast changes. There are shades of Gervais’s own problems with the BBC here, over what channel the show would air on. They wanted the mass appeal of BBC1, he refused to do a second series unless they showed it on the more ‘arty’ BBC2, comparing appearing on BBC1 to selling door to door. Ricky won but he had the success of The Office behind him. Andy’s not so lucky. Parallel to this we get to see Maggie, still working as an extra this time, on a legal romcom starring Orlando Bloom.
Ricky Gervais is in fine form as Andy torn between success and his principles and the wonderful Ashley Jensen shines as Maggie. How can you not love a woman who can’t see the appeal of Mr Bloom?
What makes Extras such an unusual show is the casting. It combines big name Hollywood stars and lesser-known (at least outside the UK) British entertainers sending themselves up with wild abandon. The first series featured Kate Winslet, Samuel L. Jackson and Patrick Stewart, to name just a few, and this season continues in the same vein.
Orlando Bloom has fun playing himself as a vain, egotistical actor and his less than flattering comments regarding Pirates of the Caribbean co-star Johnny Depp provide some of the highlights, but to say any more would spoil the fun.
This episode also sees an appearance from Keith Chegwin, a has-been UK TV presenter, here depicted as light entertainment’s answer to Mel Gibson. It was a little shocking hearing someone who used to present kids TV shows when I was growing up coming out with comments you’d normally only expect to hear from Gibbo after a night on the tiles, but it was also very funny.
Last season the humour wasn’t laugh out loud funny, more of a chuckle all the way through, although it had its moments. This time there are belly laughs aplenty and yet the show still manages to retain its subtle knowing sense of humour. It parodies old fashioned BBC comedies in the footage of the fictional sitcom When the Whistle Blows and it makes you realise just how grateful we should be to writers like Gervais for bringing TV comedy into the twenty-first century.
Roll on next week and David Bowie!