review: extras – series two, episode six
October 20, 2006
You always remember your first brush with fame. I, for instance, have vivid recollections of a Star Trek convention I attended way back in 2001 in celebration of the franchise’s 35 years of influence on science-fiction nerds everywhere. All the big names were there, including Shatner and Nimoy and host of other actors from the various series. To have an idolized, iconic figure just inches (in one memorable moment) from my person, looking effortlessly “cool” while cameras flashed incessantly, was a thrill that I carry with me to this day.
An even bigger fantasy, though, is to imagine actually, say, having a drink with one of them. So, the moment in which puerile agent Darren Lamb nonchalantly asks one of the most pedigreed movie stars living today if he would “wanna go for a pint?” was more than a little special, even in an age saturated by voyeuristic coverage from the likes of E! and Access Hollywood.
The appearance of that star, who will remain nameless for now lest the surprise be ruined (though his is the face obscured above), is a testament to how much weight Ricky Gervais and Extras now carry after two seasons, the second of which concluded just today with this sixth episode on BBC2. While neither as magically ridiculous or genuinely touching as last year’s finale, it nonetheless marks a high point of the season with two other excellent guest stars besides and scenes that adeptly evoke the most compelling aspects of the show, from celebrities making fun of their own pomposity to Darren’s ever-tenuous relationship with his only real client, Andy (played, as only he can, by Mr. Gervais).
And what about Andy? Predictably, fame has made him more than a bit arrogant, as we find him neglecting his best–in more than one sense of the word–friend in the world for spots of sunbathing and other tomfoolery with new buddy Jonathan Ross, the UK talk show host. What to do, what to do? Andy’s frolicking in the countryside is disrupted by the insertion of an…attachment to a young boy preparing for brain surgery (his mother is very persuasive). Visits to the hospital, coupled with Maggie’s loving support, bring him back into the light in time for the end, which is nearly perfect.
This leaves more than enough time some great bits between Gervais and Merchant; Darren’s ineptitude is becoming a liability, Andy decides, and, as this is the finale, anything can happen (yes, anything). The blank and devastated on his sad little face is more than enough reason for us to hope he makes out all right, though a certain ballpoint pen (I’ll say no more) keeps things interesting–cringe-inducing, more like it. There’s great fun, too, in Robert Lindsay’s epic struggle to show everyone “how much joy I bring to people” as “one of Britain’s best-loved actors.” He of course does this in the most obnoxious way possible.
Ah, celebrities: will they ever learn?
Now would seem to be an appropriate time to take stock of how the series has gone; if you have followed my reviews, you have noted that it was not, for the most part, up to the standards of last season. Whether this is evidence for some sort of comedic exhaustion from Gervais or if it simply marks a change in his thoughts on what is funny is an open question, one that I look forward to perhaps answering if the show does go on to a third series or, more likely, a one-off special (no news on that as of yet). That said, it is still one of the best comedies on television; only NBC’s The Office comes close (note that it too is a product, though an indirect one, of Mr. Gervais’ imagining), and Extras has a far better ensemble of actors.
I do think that the novelty of the celebrity guests is wearing off, though, and many of the jokes do stay in territory familiar to viewers of the first series and of The Office (the UK original version, that is), targeting the hit parade of homosexuals, the famous, and the mentally and physically handicapped–and midgets too. They are revisited and reused precisely because they are so ripe for ridicule, and Mr. Gervais often scores even with banality close at hand, but an expansion of the show’s thematic underpinnings and also its types of situations coulds serve it well if (when) it returns.
It must, I declare, if only for a last hurrah.
Update: I’ve named the mystery guest in the comments in case your curiosity gets the better of you. Do think carefully before peeking.
–D. S. W.