Monday, February 05, 2007

Extras: Being Ronnie Corbett

Some thoughts on "Extras" just as soon as I do a quality-control test on the new Sepinwall talking action figure...

"Extras" is technically a co-production between the BBC and HBO, but Gervais and Merchant have never much bothered with concessions for their American audience. The first episode of the series (which HBO aired fourth, for understandable reasons) was built around a rivalry between Ross Kemp (who?) and Vinnie Jones (slightly less of a who?, though you have to be either a soccer or Guy Ritchie fan to care). Another episode had Les Dennis (again, who?) as its main guest star, and a big gag in the season two premiere dealt with Keith Chegwin (huh?) being brought in for a small role after Paul Shane (really, at this point I'm lost) turned it down. And the final episode of this season is going to hang heavily on Jonathan Ross (vague idea).

Obviously, the show's also used plenty of very famous guests, but the fact that Gervais and Merchant never bother to explain who the For Brit Eyes Only guests are, or what some of Andy's older cultural references are about, occasionally gets in the way for me. I get that Chegwin's a newscaster of some kind who has no idea how to act, but I had no idea who Ronnie Corbett was or what he looked like, so when Andy mentioned last week that he lost his virginity to a girl who looked like Corbett, it didn't resonate (for all I knew, Ronnie was short for Veronica), and when he stumbled into that men's room stall with Darren doing coke with none other than Mr. Corbett, it wasn't nearly as funny as it no doubt would have been for fans on the other side of the pond. (Plus, as Gervais explained to me when I expressed some confusion, Ronnie Corbett is apparently the last famous man in England you would expect to find doing lines in a men's room stall. Again, over my head.)

Still, this was another painfully funny example of Andy winning fame without respect, suffering one humiliation after another, from his "Pretty Woman" revenge fantasy going wrong due to his own cheapness to the action figure gag to being banned from even the Welsh BAFTAs. Plus, Chris Martin whored himself out nicely in his cameo, and I loved the look on Andy's face as he watched Martin pointlessly sing "Fix You" on the "When the Whistle Blows" stage. On the one hand, he's disgusted that he's again allowed his vision to be so terribly compromised; on the other hand, he's obviously pleased to have such a great view of the performance.

What did everybody else think?


Blankity-Blank said...

I don't know who the British celebrities are either, but I think I like those episodes better. This cameo gimmick got old really quickly. Thank goodness I didn't know who (or what gender) Ronnie Corbett is because someone you don't expect to see doing cociaine doing cocaine isn't funny in and of itself, and so it didn't play as yet another famous person behaving badly.

Despite us not knowing half the guest stars, it still seems like the kind of pandering of which Andy feels When The Whistle Blows is guilty. Which is a shame since everything outside of that is fantastic.

Anonymous said...

It's never bothered me that I don't know who all the For Brit Eyes Only guests are because I can figure out from contextual cues what's so funny about them. And in Ronnie Corbett's case, seeing a little old man doing coke off a toilet seat was already funny.

The funniest thing about Chris Martin is that he's allegedly that egotistical IRL, so in essence, he may have been really playing himself. In any case, the ep was hilarious.

So, does the Sepinwall talking action figure say, "Yo mama, Sorkin!"? :-D

Anonymous said...

I love this show and was laughing at much of last night's episode especially with the malfunctioning doll. And Darren and Maggie's idiocy never bothered me much until last night's episode. Why Andy would put up with them after causing him to get kicked out of the BAFTAs, disclosing a virginity story, and buying a $2500 dress is beyond me. I know he's had to deal with their stupidity in the past, but I at least felt that he had some complicity in his embarrassments, but last night's episode felt like it was 100% Darren and Maggie's fault.

Elayne said...

Oh dear, I do forget you're somewhat younger than me. :)

Folks around 45 and up should remember Ronnie Corbett from the British mock news show The Two Ronnies. Episodes of The Two Ronnies have been written by Tim Brooke-Taylor (The Goodies) and Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin of Monty Python fame. It wasn't exactly obscure to American audiences! Corbett was the short one. Honestly, ringing no bells? "So it's goodnight from me..." "...and it's goodnight from him." Nothing?

*sigh* I guess I'm just old.

Ross Kemp is, of course, the ultimate scruffy boy-bruiser actor, as was made pretty clear in context. My favorite thing he's starred in was a smashing interpretation of A Christmas Carol that was sort of a cross between Dickens' story and the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day. He was also a regular on Eastenders, which is where most Americans would know him from.

Anonymous said...

I think this show makes an interesting contrast with Studio 60.... Consider that both are, essentially, vanity projects by their respective creators. Gervais has pretty much admitted that this show was a little idea he and Merchant had for something in between The Office and their next project, something that could allow them to exploit the fact that all these A-list celebrities wanted to do something with them after the huge success of their first show.

Whereas Studio 60... wants the world to know what a great and put-upon talent its creator is, Extras wants the world to know how much fun Gervais and Merchant are having working with all these celebrities (Gervais practically gushed at working with Bowie in his interview with Alan).

I think the most significant difference between the two shows, however, is that when you strip away all the vanity, at the core, one show works while the other doesn't. Consider that even the show-within-a-show of Studio 60... doesn't work as well as the movie-within-a-show of Extras. What Gervais and Merchant have shown is that just because something is a vanity project doesn't exclude it from being a worthwhile project.

floretbroccoli said...

I'm old enough to remember The Two Ronnies. But what made the whole "woman who resembled Ronnie Corbett" thing completely hilarious to me was that I couldn't remember which Ronnie was which. As far as I could tell, Andy might have lost his virginity to a tiny woman or an enormous one. I was sure, though, that they would pay the gag off, eventually having the real Ronnie Corbett on the show. They did not disappoint.

Anonymous said...

Though I don't really know any of the British celebs, I can't think of a non-cheesy way of explaining who they are. And if they did, it would ruin the joke for those who already knew.

Did anyone here watch Arliss? (or was it Arli$$) All their celebrity cameos would be over-explained. "Hey, it's Steve Young, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers and winner of Super Bowl XXIX!" I felt like they insulted our intelligence.

Toby O'B said...

Find yourself some compilation DVD or tapes of 'The Two Ronnies', Alan; you won't regret it. I'd say it was the best of the British comedies that came rushing over in the wakes of 'Monty Python' and 'The Benny Hill Show'.

One of the Britcoms that showed up on PBS in the late 70s, early 80s was 'Good Neighbours', which I started watching for Felicity Kendall, but soon was enjoying all four leads. The main character was played by Richard Briers, who showed up in this week's 'Extras' as himself, getting a standing O for beating the bejaysus out of that Ray doll. (He also played a significant part in Branagh's 'Henry V'.)

You should check out 'Good Neighbours' as well if you get the chance. (Again, mostly for Felicity!)

A lot of the cameos do slip by me, but then it's fun to look into who they are and maybe discover what led to the exaggeration of their real life.

Somena Woman said...

As a Canadian who was raised on Benny Hill, The Two Ronnies and Monty Python, I think it was great that Gervaise gave a tip of the hat to his predecessors by including Corbett in the show. Also, the idea of 75 year old Corbett snorting nose candy in the bathroom *is* funny.