on October 27, 2006
Well, let me help you out! As a British ex-pat living in the USA perhaps I can shed some light on who these "famous" people are:
Ep. 3 Ross Kemp: A former regular cast member of BBC soap "Eastenders", he played tough-thug-with a-heart-of-gold Grant Mitchell ('e loved 'is Mum, 'e did!) for many years, then went on to front a TV show about fishing. Hmm.
Ep. 3 Shaun Williamson: Another Eastenders regular, he played failed son of a second-hand car dealer Barry Evans, who (in the show) married Natalie, who had an affair with Ricky, who was married to Samantha Mitchell (Grant's sister). Oh, and Barry's father was married to Ricky's mother, Pat. It's all true!!
Ep. 3 Vinnie Jones: Actually you may have heard of him - he was recently seen in X-Men 3: The Last Stand as Juggernaut. He was also in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (debt collecting) and Swordfish (random thug). In the UK however, Jones is best known for playing football (sorry, Soccer...) for Wimbledon and grabbing fellow UK football star Paul Gascoigne by the scrotum during a game (all true and caught on film). I realize it may be confusing for those who associate Wimbledon only with Tennis, but the place is well known for its (now defunct) football team and Wombles (but that is another tale for another day).
Ep. 5 Les Dennis: Les came to the public eye as part of a comedy/impersonations duo with Dustin Gee on Russ Abbott's Mad House (old-fashioned British humor from the eighties, say no more), which led to their own show "The Laughter Show". Their best known skit featured impersonations of Vera Duckworth (Gee) and Mavis Riley (Dennis) from UK soap Coronation Street. The Mavis Riley character was known for being wimpy, downtrodden and indecisive, hence Dennis's (over)use of the phrase, "I don't really know!"
Dennis's more recent role was that of host of Family Fortunes (the UK version of Family Feud) which spawned his famous catchphrase, "If it's up there I'll give you the money myself", when contestants came out with particularly stupid answers. Both of these catchphrases feature in the Extras episode, hence the long and boring explanation.
I hope that shed some light on things. Episode numbers are per HBO screening. Fortunately there are fewer UK celebs in Season One than in Season Two!
on November 1, 2006
As a huge fan of The Office, which I think is one of the best sitcoms ever, I was anxiously anticipating Extras by the brilliant Ricky Gervais.
Extras follows Andy Millman who earns a living as a "background artist" in film and television. Andy wants to break out into bigger and better parts but first needs to at least get one line in a feature that won't end up on the cutting room floor. Andy's best friend Maggie, played by the adorable Ashley Jensen shares Andy's dream but is also in search of a relationship she can maintain past the two week mark.
Gervais' underacheiving Andy is not a cringe-worthy David Brent knock off but a multi-dimensional character whose struggles are shared by the audiance albeit in a unique field. Each episode features a relatively big named star such as Kate Winslet, Ben Stiller, Samual L Jackson and Patrick Stewart, though some stars such as Les Dennis and Vinny Jones are less well known here in the United States, though we get the general idea, Andy wants a speaking part and tries to befriend each of the stars in order to snag a speaking part.
Andy, pretending to be catholic, or "the "C" word" as he calls it and claiming that Michael Flatly was his childhood priest certainly remind us of David Brent but moments such as keeping suicidal Les Dennis company for the night or taking a more pathetic and desparate extra to dinner show Andy isn't quite the narcissist Brent was. Watching highly acclaimed and well respected actress Kate Winslet offer phone sex suggestions to Maggie is one of the most hilarious moments in television. Ben Stiller as a control freak threatening to shoot a childs mother in order for the child to act better and Samual L Jackson putting up with Maggie calling Louis Armstrong Sasquatch are refreshing and original compared to most watered down sitcoms.
For those of you familiar with Ricky Gervais, the man behind the original and best BBC Office, Extras is a real treat. For those of you unfamiliar with Gervais, Extras may take some time getting into, but once you do, you'll find a rewarding and comedic experience. Gervais plays Andy, a bit actor who desperately wants to make the big time. His partner throughout most of his antics is Maggie (Ashley Jenson), whose acting troubles are overshadowed even more by her man troubles. Andy's woes are only exasperated by his useless agent (Stephen Merchant), who seems to be doing Andy's would-be career more harm than good. The real highlight of Extras besides the excellent Gervais is the celebrity guest spots playing themselves on every episode that are brilliantly done. Ben Stiller is a scream, as is Samuel L. Jackson, while Patrick Stewart is laugh out loud hilarious as he tells Andy of his plans of writing a screenplay where he has mental powers and women have no clothing. It's Kate Winslet though that will leave you doubling over in laughter, as she attempts to help Maggie in the "talking dirty" department. Though it's only six episodes long, the first season of Extras is superb hilarity all the way, and this DVD set deserves to be picked up by fans of Gervais old and new.
on October 20, 2006
Which is?...make you laugh. And, for fans of "The Office" and deadpan English humour who haven't had the opportunity to catch it yet, this DVD is a real treat. Different, opaque to start off with, but almost as good, the six episodes hold together as a "story" and, as you start to understand what's going on, the three main characters just get funnier & funnier. Ricky Gervais' acting is superbly understated, Ashley Jenson is his perfect foil as the "put upon" extra, Stephen Merchant (Gervais' co-writer of The Office) is a perfectly cast comic revelation as his fast-talking but hopeless agent, and the idea of making famous stars make fools of themselves is excruciatingly embarrassing and, as a result, brilliantly funny.
Sure, some episodes work better than others - and, for non-English viewers several of the "star" actors will be totally unknown, making what's going on even more difficult to fathom out - but, with the possible exception of Fawlty Towers, no "classic" English comedy series has hit the bull's-eye every single time and there are more than enough winners here to put it straight into "classic" status. The result? A full evening's worth of great comedy that you'll watch over & over again. Not bad for a follow-up.
on January 15, 2007
You're most likely reading this if you're a fan of Gervais & Merchant from "The Office," the podcast, or the old XFM shows. Whatever your background of familiarity with these guys, "the difficult second album" as Gervais refers to it is quite a follow-up.
Ricky plays Andy Millman, a deeper character and one tougher to play than the hilariously obnoxious and uncomfortable David Brent. Never an actor before "The Office," Ricky is given more range and more of a challenge and proves he's up to the task. The bonus here is that Stephen Merchant gets a lot more screen time (and even more in season two) as the ridiculous non-agent Darren Lamb. Fans of Merchant from the old radio shows and podcast will certainly enjoy his greater participation.
Rather than blather on about how original, creative, and brilliant this series is (see everyone else's review for that), I'll clue you in on the special features.
OUT-TAKES: Thankfully, Gervais and Merchant have always been generous in their inclusion of their mis-steps and "behind the scenes" views of their work in "The Office," and that trend continues here. Try not to hurt yourself watching all of the takes of Ricky in the "You're aware that I'm gay" confrontation with the BBC producer from the last episode of series one. Or the multiple, failed renditions of "Mustang Sally" featuring "Barry off 'EastEnders'" with Stephen Merchant on backing vocals. It's absolutely hilarious stuff along the lines of Ricky's 70 takes with Martin Freeman trying to get through his staff appraisal in "The Office" (you remember, "the hot seat"). And it all proves once again that Ricky - though challenged by a more difficult acting role - has thankfully not become too serious a thespian that he cannot laugh at himself and continually probe his coworkers into fits of laughter as well.
FINDING LEO: This won't get many repeat viewings, but it's good for its "behind the scenes" look at Ricky and Stephen scrambling to fill a vacancy in the show late into the night by contacting several people in failed attempts to line Leonardo DiCaprio up for a role on the show.
TAPING NIGEL: You've probably seen this before if you've watched the special features on "The Office" DVD's: Ricky enjoys his 5-minute attention span by tying up the show's editor, Nigel, and performing his own "Project Runway" costume experiments on him. It seems when Karl Pilkington is unavailable, Ricky makes Nigel the guinea pig.
THE DIFFICULT SECOND ALBUM: An interesting look at the making of the series, mostly about how impressed Ricky and Stephen were with how well the A-listers they brought in for the series performed. Again, it won't get as many repeat viewings as the outtakes, but good stuff nonetheless.
A few years back, Ricky Gervais created "The Office," a Dilberty satire on office work. Now, he's created "Extras," a wickedly funny satire on showbiz and acting. And the fact that prominent actors appear in it -- as warped versions of themselves -- is just the icing on the comedy cake.
Andy Millman (Gervais) and Maggie Jacobs (Ashley Jenson) are film extras -- Andy is embittered by his lack of success and his inept agent (Stephen Merchant, Gervais' work partner), while well-meaning Maggie merely pursues a series of crew members on the films they work in.
The first episode features the two working in a biopic directed by a brusque Ben Stiller ("Would you stop going on about your f**king dead wife?"), and Andy gets himself kicked off the set. Subsequently, he ends up in the middle of a feud between UK footballer-turned-actor and Eastenders star Vinnie Jones and Ross Kemp.
In the following episodes, Andy and Maggie blunder around with various stars: Kate Winslet in a nun costume, who teaches Maggie how to talk dirty to her new boyfriend ("I'd love it if you stuck your Willy Wonka in between my Oompa-Loompas!"); Samuel L. Jackson, whom Maggie mixes up with Laurence Fishbourne; and Patrick Stewart, who is writing a movie about mind powers, and as many naked women as possible.
Part of the genius of "Extras" is that it isn't much like any other showbiz parodies -- the lead characters are on the lowest rung of acting, and the big egos are real stars making fun of themselves. Sometimes they play really nasty versions of themselves, such as Winslet saying that she's only making a Holocaust film so she can nab an Oscar.
The other half of the comic genius is Gervais' direction, with most of the jokes based on socially awkward situations. It's all about cringing and giggling at once. Those hideously embarrassing situations -- usually with some hilarious dialogue involving the star guests (Stewart: "The reason you're hearing my rich, sexy voice is that Andy isn't man enough to apologise himself, so he's asked me to do it").
And instead of the obnoxious boss, Andy underplays a sort of befuddled, cynical low-rung worker, but you can really connect with his struggles. He's great when he does things like inadvertantly insult a priest by babbling about pedophilia. Jensen is clumsily charming as Maggie, who tries to be nice to everyone but says all the wrong things ("I like lots of other things, you know -- white or black!").
"Extras" is a hilarious Britcom with talent to burn and an even funnier acting/directing/writing job by Gervais and Merchant. Absolutely sidesplitting.
Extras is the kind of show you sit down and watch and then when it ends you sit back down and watch it again. There are so many subtle facial expressions and jokes involved in every episode. Ricky Gervais's new character, Andy Millman, is (as the name implies) a sort of everyman who is constantly working as a "background performer" on movie sets, although he fancies himself a "real actor". Trouble is, he's never had so much as a line in anything. This is due in part to his inept agent, played with brilliant daftness by co-creator and co-director Stephen Merchant.
All six episodes feature cameos from actual celebrities who are more than happy to mock their media perceived personas. The episodes feature Kate Winslett, Ben Stiller, Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Stewart, Ross Kemp, Vinnie Jones, and Les Dennis. All are clearly having a great time skewering themselves to the benefit of the viewer. Kate Winslett is crass and just out to get an Oscar, Ben Stiller is rude, self-centered, and insecure, and Patrick Stewart is dim-witted and slightly perverse. All are hilarious.
But the celebrity guest stars aren't the focus of the show. The show is really about Andy and his friend Maggie (Ashley Jensen) and their interactions with other people on the sets and in their day-to-day lives. Maggie is often trying to woo any man on set to go out with her, while Andy is always working at getting himself a line in the film or tv show of the day.
Although Extras does feature some Merchant/Gervais social awkwardness humor, it's not as uncomfortable as The Office, and often it is the characters around Andy that make the situation uncomfortable and not Andy himself. Overall the show is hilarious and a joy to watch.
I'm not sure why it's on a 2 DVD set, since there are only 6 episodes. There are quite a few special features included, mostly on the second disc. The outtakes are some of the best I've seen, mostly consisting of Ricky Gervais repeatedly breaking character and as take by take go by, we see his infectious laugh causing the other actor in the scene to break character. There's a short featuring Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais frantically trying to locate a new actor to replace Jude Law after Law backed out of an episode featuring him. Their failure to locate anyone assoicated with Leonardo DiCaprio (their first choice) is painfully funny. The deleted scenes are funny, but it's clear why they were deleted. Typically they would hvae thrown off the flow of the show.
This is a great series to own and these 6 episodes are better than most other shows on television right now. What I'd like to see is Larry David in a cameo here. Maybe for season 3.
on February 12, 2007
On "Extras," Ricky Gervais plays a struggling actor named Andy, who can't seem to catch a break (or get a speaking part), relegated to playing "background" parts in movies either starring or involving big-name talent including Kate Winslet, Ben Stiller, Samuel L. Jackson, and Patrick Stewart.
It's so bad for Andy that during one scene in which he plays a carriage driver, he attempts to put his face in the frame at the last moment, but when the director yells "cut!" he adds "make sure we keep that fat extra's face out of the scene" or something to that effect. It can't get much worse than that, you might think, but you'd be wrong.
Just as on "The Office," the characters on "Extras" seem to know exactly what the most awkward, socially unacceptable thing is to say in just about any situation. Some of the most hilarious scenes involve Andy's best friend (and "background" acting pal), Maggie (played by Ashley Jensen). In one episode, Maggie gets involved with a black man, but in trying not to appear racist, she takes it to the awkward extreme and ends up bringing Andy, who attempts to jump into a conversation involving Sam Jackson to save her, down with her. And just when he had finally gotten a line!
And then there is Andy's inept agent, played brilliantly by "Extras" co-writer/director Stephen Merchant. When Andy goes in to talk to the guy about what potential acting jobs he has, he either doesn't know what Andy is doing there or he is cracking up over having just learned to spell a naughty word on a calculator.
The big-name guest stars, especially Kate Winslet, must have had a lot of fun working on "Extras" because their dialogue and physical action is often dirty and totally at odds with what you'd think they would be like in reality. Winslet and Patrick Stewart both seem like they would be proper and somewhat conservative people in real life, but on "Extras" they reveal a raunchy side that is brilliantly funny simply because it is so unexpected.
I loved "The Office," but "Extras" has made me a full-fledged Ricky Gervais fan. It's great to see Gervais in action because he really seems to love what he does and he's so good at it. "Brilliant!" is an understatement.
Having seen the previews for the upcoming season with guest stars like Daniel Radcliffe, I can't wait to see what unexpected things Gervais and Merchant come up with for Harry Potter to say.
The "Extras" DVD also features a very funny featurette called "Finding Leo," in which Gervais and Merchant attempt to make contact with Leo DiCapprio after Jude Law drops out at the last minute.
I absolutely love Ricky Gervais' HBO series, "Extras". In my first introduction to the series I didn't 'get it'. But the more I watched the show, the more it began to grow on me. As time went on it occured to me, that this show is just brilliantly funny with a touch of pathos thrown in for good measure.
In the first season we meet Andy Millman (Ricky Gervais) a 43 year old, middle age guy, who is on the bottom rungs of show biz, doing "Extras" work. These are the folks you see in a film or TV show, who are in the background to give a scene some authenticity. In the entertainment business, they are treated more like props or scenery, rather then 'real' actors. During the course of the show we follow Andy on different British film sets as he is trying to make the jump from being a mere "Extra" to actually getting a real speaking part and become a "proper" actor. But this seems like an endless, fruitless, exercise in humiliation. He is joined on this quest by his none-to-bright, best friend and fellow Extra, Maggie Jacobs (hilariously played by Ashley Jensen). Every so often we are also treated to Andy's almost non-sensical, ridiclous meetings with his totally incompetent Agent, Darren Lamb (Stephen Merchent). In most British sit-coms, Darren would be termed a "total git".
The writing on the show is just top notch. The dialogue is funny and seems to have it's own twisted logic, that often comes back to haunt the characters. I also love the cast and the amazing comic chemistry they have together. Ricky Gervais and Ashley Jensen seem to have a Laurel & Hardy quality. The back & forth conversations these two have, literally leave me on the floor laughing! I could listen to them just banter for the whole 30 minutes of each episode. The same goes for Gervais's conversations with his ridiculous agent played by Stephen Merchant. Their dialogue together plays like something staight out of the 'Mad Tea Party' from "Alice in Wonderland". This is a brilliantly funny show. The first season is great! I can't wait for the next season to released to DVD. Highly recommended!
on March 26, 2007
Although Steven Merchant and Ricky Gervais clearly re-use some tricks they demonstrated so adeptly in the two seasons of the Office, this is definitely a worthy 'second album'. The laughs are frequent and hearty, yet unlike most modern sitcoms, you both relate to and like the main characters, despite their obvious flaws. In Andrew, Ricky has crafted a more likable character than Brent, whilst still preserving his social awkwardnesss, and maintaining a severe case of terminal 'foot in mouth' syndrome. Another classic, if not quite on parr with the Office, certainly in another class from most other modern sitcoms, especially in the post-Friends and post-Seinfeld era.