Extras Series Finale

17 Dec

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You know how when you’re a kid and you’re a fan of someone or something, you dream of someday meeting them, working with them, hanging out with them? Well, if there was one person in show business I would love to work with – in however small a capacity – more than anyone else, it would be Ricky Gervais. From his masterpiece The Office, to the brilliant Extras, or even the fantastically funny podcasts, he has that distinctly British combination of brains and humor that make most American expletive-hucking comics look like dribbling morons by comparison.

Last night, HBO aired the series finale / Christmas special of Extras. Caution – spoilers ahead.

Like the Office, Extras followed a very specific story arc over the course of two 6-episode series and a long finale. In Extras, we meet Andy Millman, the struggling extra, hanging out on various sets with his struggling extra friend Maggie. By the end of season one, he hustled his way into Patrick Stewart’s trailer, and in one of the most memorable and funny scenes in television history, discusses Stewart’s script for a movie. (I’ve seen everything). From that comes a meeting with the BBC and his very own sitcom.

Millman’s sitcom is immediately watered down by the BBC so that it relies on cheap laughs, broad humor, and catchphrases – something Gervais himself has eschewed. Some see it as a biting critique of, say, Little Britain, which relies heavily on catchphrases and laugh tracks. In any event, “When the Whistle Blows” is a blessing and a curse for Millman, bringing him loads of money and fame, but he never gets the respect of the people whom he respects. In season 2, we find Millman vying for credibility by playing a gay character in a stage play directed by Sir Ian McKellan. It didn’t go well, as do few of Millman’s efforts at higher brow material.

At the end of Extras proper, he blows off a meeting with Robert DeNiro to visit a sick kid with his faithful friend Maggie. But the series was left hanging somewhat.

In the season finale last night, Gervais put on a show that was more a commentary on fame and loyalty than it was a ha-ha funny show. Juxtapose Andy telling his new agent Tre that he really wanted “fame and fortune” with Maggie refusing to have gruel and shit thrown at her face by Clive Owen. Maggie – at the bottom of the show biz ladder – would rather get a job scrubbing toilets than live with that indignity. Quite different from top-of-the-world Millman, who has a fancy flat, a swanky agent, slowly worsening seats at the Ivy, and whose star was rapidly dimming.

Podcast fans will recognize Karl Pilkington (whose head is like a f-king orange) as the fan outside the Ivy who refused Millman’s request to give him an autograph.

As Millman and Maggie both go into show biz career freefall, he takes the ultimate desperate-celebrity gig, appearing on Celebrity Big Brother. You can feel him cringe at every moment in that house.

Finally, dramatically, Millman gets the opportunity to perform an “I get it” soliloquy, apologizing to Maggie, who’s watching in her one-room bedsit. We all knew Gervais was a funny actor. We didn’t know until last night that he was also a good one. Anyone who’s read interviews with him knows he wants to do more dramatic roles. Last night, he passed the audition.

In the end, his soliloquy was about to revive his career, but he chose instead to take Maggie on vacation, and we fade out on them driving to Heathrow in Maggie’s 2CV.

Millman learns a lot of lessons about himself, about friendship, and about loyalty and integrity in that last episodes. One can only imagine that Gervais himself has been torn by these issues in his own life as his fame has grown.

It was a poignant end to a brilliant show, and I eagerly await the next Merchant/Gervais masterpiece.

One Response to “Extras Series Finale”

  1. danredmond December 24, 2007 at 5:01 pm #

    Just saw it- may be best piece of television ever- riveting, hilarious, and touching. Amazing tv.

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