review: extras – series two, episode one
September 16, 2006
Will Andy Millman sell out? That is the one question I keep asking myself during the premiere of the second series of Extras, British comedian Ricky Gervais’ hugely successful BBC2 comedy program. When last we left Andy (played by Mr. Gervais), he had found some measure of success in selling a comedy pitch to the BBC that seemed vaguely reminiscent of The Office, Mr. Gervais’ debut television project (the meta-levels here can get a bit confusing). Even after insulting his two gay BBC contacts, Andy managed to secure an agreement that would, ostensibly, release him from the doldrums of “background work.”
Or so he thought (pardon the cliché). As the new season, which began airing last Thursday on BBC2, opens, we learn that Andy’s project has been rendered unrecognizable by the ominpotent forces of studio meddling. Preparing to shoot the premiere episode, Andy must wrangle with, among other things, the cringeworthy outbursts of his idiot agent (co-writer Stephen Merchant), the inappropriate yet unshakably cheery mannerisms of one of the stars, and with those same two gay men (of whom Andy is deathly afraid).
Then, the moment of truth: returning to the question I posed at the outset, Andy must make the choice of whether to continue (unhappily) with a script and characters he despises–don’t forget the dreaded “catchphrase”–or to walk away from the whole thing, “burning his bridges with the BBC and wasting thousands of pounds and everyone’s time,” as one man so delicately puts it. I won’t spoil it for you, but the results do take the show in an interesting direction, setting up another line of uncomfortably amusing chapters in Andy’s rather pathetic life.
But Andy is only one half of the story. Ashley Jensen, as Maggie, is stuck on a set with “hot young thing” Orlando Bloom, who spoofs himself as an obsessively needy and self-absorbed movie star. Between hilariously scripted phone calls to Andy, she, unimpressed with Bloom’s prettiness, fends off the actor’s advances–to the consternation of everyone around her. While the comedy fails to rise to the lofty heights established in the first season’s fine finale–Patrick Stewart’s zaniness is still fresh in my mind–Gervais and Merchant have lost none of their predilection for bringing out the supreme awkwardness in even the most ordinary situations.
This is very much Extras, part II, rather than Extras, the sequel. Aside from an improved ‘do for Mr. Gervais–last season’s was just awful–and lighting that is marginally more cinematic, everything is business as usual, which is to say: wonderful. It’s new, it’s funny, and it’s oh-so-British. Extras is back.
–D. S. W.