TV Review: Extras – Season One

The summer of HBO continues.

Extras Season One

Starring: Ricky Gervais, Ashley Jensen, Stephen Merchant

Series Creator: Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant

You know, I tried. I tried to get what the rest of the world sees in Ricky Gervais. I gave up on The Office after two episodes, but had heard enough about his new series Extras to give him another chance (not without trepidation, since I heard nothing but praise for Gervais’ last series. But this is my summer of HBO).

I managed to gut out the whole six episode season this time, but I’m not saying it was easy. I’m not going to sit here and say that everyone else is wrong about Gervais, but I’m not going to say I’m wrong about him either. Humour generally allows for the most honest of reactions. If you don’t find it funny, then it isn’t, and if you do, then it is. It’s that simple. It’s hard to fake your reaction to humour, so if you find Gervais’ humour funny, then it is to you. If you’re like me, and you don’t, then it isn’t.

Some people would call the humour on this show dry. I consider it to be a complete comedic drought. Easily the least funny supposedly funny show I’ve ever been unfortunate enough to watch. The appeal of Gervais completely mystifies me. His character in this show is completely one note, employing the same tired bit show after show, scene after scene. He gets himself into an awkward conversation with someone, mumbles out something inappropriate, then mumbles out something even more inappropriate as an attempt to cover the first inappropriateness, rinse, repeat until an uncomfortable silence is achieved, and… scene. I think the reason why he keeps his seasons so short is so people won’t have time to figure out that the guy basically knows one comedic set-up, and there’s no way to keep it up for more than a dozen shows.

This time out, Gervais plays Andy Millman, a struggling actor whose only work is as a film and stage extra (or background artist). He usually does these gigs with his friend Maggie (Ashley Jensen, herself a one note joke that basically exposes her as being an airhead who says dumb things out of ignorance), unable to get a real job because his agent Darren (Stephen Merchant) is useless. Each episode of the series features a celebrity cameo with actors playing twisted version of themselves, be it Kate Winslet, Ben Stiller, Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Stewart, or some British dude I’ve never heard of.

The celeb cameos are the highlight of the episodes, with Winslet and Stewart being the best of the bunch (except for the episodes featuring the guys I’ve never heard of, Ross Kemp and Les Dennis, which were death. Kemp’s episode did feature another small cameo from Vinnie Jones, but it wasn’t all that interesting). But none of the cameos were good enough to make suffering through Gervais, Jensen, and Merchant doing the same bits every episode, and I’m sure they’re probably floating around the tubes if you’re dying to see Patrick Stewart’s buzzed about part.

The episodes are so repetitive and one note that besides the finale (“Patrick Stewart”), you can watch it in whatever order you want and not feel lost about the plot or character development (that would because there is no plot or character development until the finale). You know how I know this? Because it has been aired in three different orders already. When the first series was first broadcast in the UK on the BBC, the episode featuring Ben Stiller was broadcast first, followed by the Ross Kemp and Vinnie Jones episode the following week. When the series was repeated over the Christmas holiday 2005 on the BBC, the episodes were returned to their intended order, with Ross Kemp first, followed by Stiller. When it was aired in the States on HBO, the Kate Winslet episode came first, followed by Stiller, then Kemp, which is the order it appears in the North American DVD release (and the order I saw it in). So, whether or not you find the show funny, can we at least stop acting like Gervais is making the most original, intelligent TV out there. This is the sort of interchangeable sitcom development that most shows stopped doing years ago, realising that it’s lazy. Basically, Andy Millman is about as complicated and developed a character as were Tim “the Toolman” Taylor or Ray Barone.

Which wouldn’t even be so bad if the guy, or the show, were funny. I’ll admit, there was once or twice when the show would get a smirk or a halfhearted chuckle out of me, but never any real laughter. In fact, the most amusing time I had watching the show was the one time I erupted into forced laughter over a lame bit for my wife’s benefit, wiping away an imaginery tear, exclaiming “it’s funny cause he’s gay! Get it?!?” (for those scoring at home, this was during the Les Denis episode). I basically had to keep myself entertained, cause the show wasn’t going to do it for me.

So I’m done with Ricky Gervais. Two painfully unfunny series were enough for me. If you dug his other stuff, then you’ll dig this, cause its basically the same thing. As I imagine his next thing will be (and will probably also instantly be declared genius), but I won’t be showing up to find out. Although, if they decide to do an American version of Extras, I might have to check that out.

1/5

Related:
The Office [American version]: Season One
The Office [American version]: Season Two
Entourage – Seasons One and Two
TV Talk: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

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