Synopsis: ‘Tis the season to be jaded, at least if you’re Andy Millman (Ricky Gervais). Despite the success of his highly-rated (but critically panned) sitcom When the Whistle Blows, Andy can’t help but wonder if true artistic respectability will ever come his way.
While ‘Extras : Bloody Merry’ is a short holiday TV movie, I’ll be using it as an excuse to comment on the series as a whole, seeing as I’ve watched it in the past week or so. I never comment on TV shows, since this is a movie group, but here’s an opportunity to bridge the two.
For starters, let me say that I’m a HUGE fan of the original BBC production of ‘The Office’. I especially liked the first series, as it reminded me so much of what I had seen at my previous job. It was a great way to exorcise the demons, seeing as there was a lot of bitterness left over from those experiences.
But the series got weaker as it went along and, by ‘The Office’ holiday special, it was good but not so great.
I can’t say the same for ‘Extras’, which is also written and performed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant (Merchant has a MUCH larger on-screen role in ‘Extras’): the series is pretty even-keeled throughout, and I’d even go so far as to say that it improves moderately over its run.
However, it never comes close to the heights of ‘The Office’. It may not be fair to compare the two, seeing as they’re two different beasts, but there are similarities so it’s hard to NOT compare the two.
For one, there’s the character that Ricky Gervais plays. While he was painfully hard to love in the other show, here he’s halfway between a regular human being and an awkward, self-centred jerk. My problem is that, as the centrepiece of the show, making him a jerk half the time makes it difficult to connect with him.
In the other show, he was there to laugh at; his complete self-obsessiveness was mocked by the other characters and the audience alike. Here, we’re asked to empathize with what he’s going through, except that you sometimes can’t help but think that he deserves whatever he gets because he’s such a dick. And that puts distance between him and us.
In the other show, at least, there was a bevy of characters to provide some distractions and extra levity. Here, we have his friend Maggie as his side-kick and patsy. She’s a great character, but it’s not enough to make up for all the awkwardness and intense discomfort. They also have two other regular characters in his agent and the agent’s best friend, but that’s also of minimal relief – especially since they’re only there from time to time.
As with ‘The Office’, the awkwardness is supposed to be the core of much of the comedy. It can be funny to watch people do things that we sometimes wish we could do, or act on thoughts that creep up on us but we’d rather not acknowledge. But it can also be extremely horrid to watch if there’s no real resolution, if the discomfort remains beyond a certain point.
For instance, our main character, Andy, will talk himself into situations that no one else would. We may be able to relate with his minimal social skills and lack of grace in unpleasant situations, but it’s challenging to watch him sink deeper because of his inability to speak the truth in key moments or clear the air despite how much it hurts – because, invariably, it always ends up hurting more.
So, what is frustrating for me is that he always makes things worse for himself incrementally when he could easily just put a halt to it all and, if not fix things, stop the slippery slide. The fact that he never unlearns his bad habit of always complicating matters for him is extra agony for me, ’cause I like to believe that we can learn from our mistakes; here, there’s little growth. Also it makes the supposed humour a one-note joke.
Another problem for me is that the show is lighter on humour than ‘The Office’. The fact that there are two main characters and (usually) one guest star limits the opportunities. In ‘The Office’, there were four main characters plus a bevy of side characters. And they constantly played off of each other, so the zingers kept coming. It was loads of fun. Here, not only is there plenty of discomfort, but the humour doesn’t come regularly enough to ease the pain.
All in all, it’s a good concept. I like watching the character’s professional growth and self-destruction as a wannabe actor. This whole world is especially entertaining and I like that he bounces off well-known talent along the way. But I wish that it balanced the humour and discomfort differently, and I wish that we had two leads we could truly love, fully and completely. Without this, it makes their misfortunes unbearable to watch at times.
It’s still a good show. But it doesn’t compel me to watch it a second time. And that’s a bloody shame.