indulge in some quiet time
must-see dvd tv: the
office (US), extras|
by Yee-Fan Sun | 1 2 3
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Andy Millman is a wannabe actor eagerly awaiting his big break – and dutifully slogging away as a lowly film and TV extra while he waits for his day to come. He’s pudgy and plain-faced; he’s 43 years old and not getting any younger; he has a lousy, useless excuse for an agent. In the five years or so that he’s been at this gig, he’s accumulated nary an actual acting job on his resume to show for his efforts. Still, Andy has a dream and he’s determined to let his inner star shine. In the meantime, his work as an extra may not be yielding any of the lines he so covets, but at least he gets to loiter on the (far) fringes of genuine stardom, sharing sets with famous names of big and small screen alike and doing his best to make career-advancing contacts. Whether he’s working on an inspirational based-on-real-life war film directed by Ben Stiller or a BBC period piece with a well-known British soap star, a Nazi-era drama starring Kate Winslet as a nun or a political action-thriller featuring Samuel L. Jackson, Andy gives each tiny, background, filler part his all. Meanwhile, sharing the extras life with him is his best friend Maggie Jacobs. Sweet but slightly dim-witted, Maggie doesn’t have the big thespian aspirations of her pal. Instead, her main quest is a personal one: she’s a single thirty-something-year-old woman in desperate search for a man.
As co-creators of the much-adored BBC sitcom, The Office, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant had a lot to live up to with Extras, their second foray into TV-series-land. Here, they abandon the mockumentary style that worked so well with The Office in favor of a more traditionally episodic, punchline-driven sort of comedic concept (though thankfully without the dreaded laugh track). And for the most part, this works great: each episode opens with a scene from some fake film, and generally features a well-known actor or actress (although some may be less familiar to American viewers than they would have been to the show’s original British audience). Gervais’ Andy Millman lurks somewhere in the background, the Waldo you have to make a bit of an effort to pick out. Indeed, it’s Andy’s total inconspicuousness that makes him an interesting character; he’s an Everyman, a completely ordinary guy, and it’s very amusing seeing how the moviemaking world looks from the viewpoint of a total peon. This is a very different role from the pathologically obnoxious David Brent character he created for The Office, and Gervais does a good job of making Andy believable and even fairly likable, a guy you can kinda-sorta identify with at times. Of course, he also delivers witty zingy one-liners and painfully awkward-funny situations aplenty.
Meanwhile, he and co-star Ashley Jensen have a great chemistry; you completely buy them as strictly platonic bestest of buds, and the friendship between Andy and Maggie adds a layer of genuine sweetness to the show. But the real fun comes from the special guest appearances by famous actors and actresses, playing parodied, tongue-in-cheek versions of themselves. You can’t help but love each of the celebs a little more for their willingness to poke some fun at their own images. Extras might not have the universal appeal of The Office – the entertainment industry just isn’t a world most of us have all that much experience with – but it’s very very funny and a refreshingly different take on the sitcom genre, another excellent creation by the talented comedy team of Merchant and Gervais.