Sunday, December 16, 2007

Extras: Keep your girdle on

Brief spoilers for the "Extras" finale coming up just as soon as I give a male friend a hug near an open window...

My love of "Extras" -- well, at least, of the second season and now of this movie -- hasn't been shared by the world at large, or even by the much smaller world of Ricky Gervais fans. Previous columns and blog posts on the subject haven't generated much feedback, and most of the original recipe "Office" fans I know seem either unaware of or uninterested in Gervais and Stephen Merchant's follow-up.

That's a shame, because while "Extras" will never have the bracing, fresh quality of "The Office," it's an even deeper, nastier examination of the cult of celebrity that's pacifying Western Civilization. And of the two works, it's the one I find myself going back and revisiting more. (I will never say a bad word about the character of David Brent, but it often pains me to revisit him in a way that Andy Millman doesn't.)

I mostly said my piece on the movie-length finale in my column on Thursday -- much of it is a thematic rehash of the season two finale, but parts of it had me laughing so hard I gasped for air, and Ashley Jensen is superb, both in the more serious moments and the funny stuff -- so for the three of you who care about this special, I'm just gonna rattle off a list of the moments that had me especially pained with laughter or wondering why the living room was so dusty:

-The department store sequence, complete with racist Michael Richards doll;

-Maggie assuming Andy would be Jewish in a world without Christmas;

-Maggie watching the heavyset "While the Whistle Blows" actor pick over the last of the craft services food, only to be saved from deciding whether to eat it when Andy calls her to his dressing room;

-Andy's girdle exploding in mid-audition (and "exploding" is a pretty good description for my laughter level at that moment);

-Darren and Barry coming up with a system to deal with his busted zipper;

-The mortified look on Maggie's face throughout the Clive Owen/whore scene, followed by Clive's reaction to Maggie's elderly replacement;

-Andy acting above the whole "England's number one catchphrase" thing, followed by that all-catchphrase episode of "When the Whistle Blows";

-Maggie being shown her spider-infested new apartment (one of those scenes that was hilarious and tragic at the same time);

-The neighborhood kids calling Darren and Barry gay (a cheap joke that was expensively set-up, if you know what I mean);

-Darren trying to jump over the plexiglass barrier, followed by Darren's usual goofy smile seeming like the saddest thing in the world when he realizes Andy won't give him a pass;

-"Fame is a mask that eats... into the face!"

-Darren, Barry and the other Carphone Warehouse guy doing their ridiculous dance every single time that one ringtone goes off;

-Andy as a farting slug alien on "Doctor Who";

-The "celebrity" "Big Brother" contestants insisting they haven't given up their dignity, followed immediately by them doing the Chicken Dance on cue;

-The entirety of Andy's anti-fame rant (maybe more on the nose than Gervais and Merchant's usual stuff, but they've said this is the last work they're going to do on celebrity, and they clearly had a lot to get off their chests);

-The lad mag girl being moved by Andy's speech, but still insisting on putting on a bikini before walking out;

-Andy and Maggie riding off to the sunset as "Tea for the Tillerman" plays one last time. (Can't wait to hear the exit music for their next series.)

What did everybody (or all three of you) think?


Anonymous said...

This was pretty much the only thing I really, really wanted to watch today.

And then the cable went out a little after 8. And then the cable came on a few minutes ago. Awesome, this wind storm.

Alan, any idea on the replay schedule? I don't have the TiVo and I didn't see anything on HBO's site.

Pissed is one word to use. Stupid cablevision.

Anonymous said...

"This Woman's Work" was perfectly played in the two scenes with Maggie.

Darren wiping away tears when Ricky tells the world about his only true friend.

Ben Guest

Josh Mauthe said...

What a great finale to the series. It wasn't the constant barrage of insanity that the show had--there was nothing that matched that David Bowie number or Ian McKellen's acting lessons, for instance--but that was more than made up for by the heart and soul that was poured into it.

Jensen was phenomenal in a way that I was unprepared for, given the rest of the show; her facial expression really made that apartment scene so sad, even while the realtor made it pretty hysterically funny (his description of the neighborhood was genius, especially when followed by the line "Do you like Chinese food?") But it was Gervais's monologue on fame that will stick with me. Like you said, a bit on the nose, but well delivered and perfectly crafted - and if anyone thinks that celebrities wouldn't miss the point of even something that fierce and angry like the bikini woman did, I think you're living in a dream world.

A really wonderful show throughout, although I desperately wanted Greg to get punched in the face - as obnoxious as Andy could be, he never matched Greg. Sad.

And the kid calling them homosexuals was priceless; so much setup for such a simple joke, but it made the payoff all that more brilliant.

Jeff K. said...

I've been looking forward to this if only because the last episode of Season Two left me sorta cold, in a way that the last episode of Season 2 of the Office didn't.

Since Rickphan (Gervachant?) - used the Christmas episode to great effect to really wrap up The Office - I was looking forward to that kind of closure here.

And boy howdy... closure came in buckets.

I thought it might have taken Maggie a smidge too long to call Andy on being an utter asshole, but the episode was far more cringeworthy and sad than I thought LOL funny.

(Not that it wasn't that -- but it really didn't seem structured like a comedy. There were funny bits -- the aforementioned phone dance, the Chicken Dance, etc. -- but it really felt overshadowed by the drama.

Which was fine.

I think the show works best as a cringefest, and the wife and I spent more time dreading the payoffs -- the girdle snapping wasn't so hilarious as it was depressing. You saw it coming a mile away so it didn't function so well as a punchline as it did another in a long line of humiliations that Andy suffers in front of Greg...

But overall just terrific. I'm now too tired to finish this ...

Unknown said...

"wasn't so hilarious as it was depressing."

that was pretty much the whole episode. but it was really good. and rg has gotten me a bit verklempt with both his final my surprise each time.

Shawn Anderson said...

I loved it... even the constant name-dropping at the restaurant. Great repeated use of Sufjan Stevens' "Angels We Have Heard on High" (the bells). More than all that, though, I loved:

"Fuck off! I'm Clive Owen... this is mental!"

"Don't you want to make it on the b-list?"
"Yeah, but I don't want to be on the hepatitus-b-list"

"Fish stew?"
"No way I'm letting him do that on a first date!"

Anonymous said...

Alan - if only to let you know that there are now 7 people who watch Extras and read your blog, I submit this comment.

I loved The Office, but had a really tough time enjoying Season 1 (Series 1 in UK terms) of Extras. A few of my friends who also loved the UK Office felt the same. Except for when Andy dropped his face in the soup - twice - I didn't have many feelings on the first season - and wasn't going to check out Season 2 until I remembered how great The Office was and how much I love the Gervais podcasts and radio show - and I felt I owed it to him to check it out.

The second season and this special really paid off well. With so many US shows ending with just flat-out bad finales, maybe they should hire Gervais and Merchant to wrap up long-running series over here (not that they'd do it).

P.S. Anyone notice Karl Pilkington as the guy looking for autographs outside the Ivy, but who didn't want Andy's? His perfectly round head made him easy to spot.

For reference, if you are a Gervais/Merchant fan, you HAVE to listen to their XFM radio show and the podcasts that grew out of them. I work in radio, and in my mind those shows are simply the best radio I've ever heard.

You can also probably get them via Bit Torrent if you know where to look. Like, say... here.

If you find yourselves on Gervais/Merchant withdrawal - that torrent has about 140 hours of show that oddly make the case that Merchant is the funnier one. Well, between Gervais and Merchant. Pilkington is clearly the King of that show. And if you don't know who Pilkington is, listen to the first few episodes of the XFM show and your life will never be the same. Pilkington isn't involved at first (he's their board-op), but by episode 5, it basically becomes the Karl Pilkington show.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Alan, any idea on the replay schedule? I don't have the TiVo and I didn't see anything on HBO's site.

I did a schedule search on HBO's site, and the next time seems to be Wednesday at 8:30.

Alan Sepinwall said...

the girdle snapping wasn't so hilarious as it was depressing. You saw it coming a mile away so it didn't function so well as a punchline as it did another in a long line of humiliations that Andy suffers in front of Greg...

See, and here we get into that whole "why people think something is funny" discussion that took over the "30 Rock" thread for the "I murdered my wife" joke. I knew something bad would happen with the girdle, but for it to 1)happen not two seconds into the audition, and 2)to just explode open like that, killed me. The only other time in the series I think I laughed that much was at Darren's three-flusher on his one and only date with Maggie.

Anonymous said...

I think the girdle joke was telegraphed, but something that funny... well, it's like if you see the car coming that's about to hit you. Something that big, seeing it coming isn't going to make it hurt any less. What made it a better gag was that they didn't milk it. It broke, and Andy knew immediately the audition was over. The earnestness with which everyone except Andy's nemesis was reviewing the video was hilarious.

I still have mixed feelings about the on-the-nose monologue. I generally don't like these. I think Rescue Me began it's downhill plunge when it did that stupid monologue in front of the fireman's memorial, where the characters ranted about the 9/11 memorial.

This one seemed a bit better because there was a whole setup, and a reason why the monologue happened in the story (and it helped that the monologue was dead-on). Still, I'm not sure it wasn't jarring.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Alan. It was on the On Demand schedule this morning, just not last night.

Then again, HBO has been teasing The Wire on On Demand all month, but the episodes haven't been in the que. I think that changes today, too.

Looking forward to more Gervais.

Anonymous said...

I loved it. I agree it skewed more toward drama than comedy, but I think Gervais' best work often does that. The David Bowie episode of Extras is a perfect example. To your list of things to love about the episode, I'll add Andy's new agent telling him that there are few people who can have both fame and respect, and "you'll never be one of them." And the look on Gervais' face just after that, when you knew he was going to pick fame.

I can't wait to see what Ricky Gervais does next. Whatever it is, I'll be there.

Anonymous said...

The only thing I really didn't like about the Extras finale was the derisive treatment of Dr Who.

Has Ricky Gervais even bothered to watch the current program? With the way Andy kept sneering at it, and the depiction of it as a cheap bit of garbage, you'd think they were discussing Classic Who rather than the wonderful new version, a version that's, quite frankly, more entertaining than Extras.

Anonymous said...

"With the way Andy kept sneering at it, and the depiction of it as a cheap bit of garbage, you'd think they were discussing Classic Who rather than the wonderful new version, a version that's, quite frankly, more entertaining than Extras."

Even the OLD series is better than anything Gervais has ever done. He's a comedy dementor, like Martin Short -- humor gets sucked instantly out of anything he goes near. I don't understand why otherwise-intelligent people keep thinking he's funny.

Nicole said...

I am a huge fan of Doctor Who, especially the new series and you can't actually tell me that Slug Man was much different from the pig men in "Daleks in Manhattan".

I don't think Tennant would have participated had Gervais' treatment of the show been that horrible.

Overall, I enjoyed the special, and while there were depressing parts, there were also many hilarious parts, kinda like real life, which is what British comedy does, or at least Gervais.

baggsey said...

I must confess that I was a little disappointed in the finale - I was perhaps hoping for a little more Christmas cheer at this time of year. A bit more humor and a little less pathos would have been welcome. Nothing to rival the gag in Series 2 with Merchant, the whisk and toilet. Excellent performances all round, nonetheless, and a great meditation on the transitory nature of celebrity.

I loved the introduction Dean Gaffney (ex "Eastenders") as the 3rd member in the Carphone Warehouse crew, joining Shaun Williamson (Barry off "EastEnders"). I think they are both pretty brave to parody their own circumstances, and the fact that their own national celebrity staus flared and waned so quickly.

I found it very interesting that this version of the finale was tailored for a US audience, which to my mind is goes against the "dumbing-down" that Andy Millman rails against. The George Michael bit was cut down to remove a reference to the Catherine Tate UK Christmas special, and muted the punchline to that gag. Take a look at the Extras Finale promo on the Ricky Gervais web site, and you'll see the full version. Also the reference to Katie Couric was obviously tailored for a US audience, plus some other items which jarred as out of place.

A comparison with the UK broadcast version will be interesting

Anonymous said...

Yes, the girdle thing you saw coming from a mile away - it was all in the execution, which was absolutely perfect. And I do think that the anticipation of it going off added to the whole situation for the viewer. You knew it was coming...but how, when?

My stomach is a little queasy just *remembering* that moment for Andy, I think I might actually die of embarassment for him if I watched it again. And yet...I laughed.

"Fuck off! I'm Clive Owen... this is mental!" was awesome. I want to marry him.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if the DVD will have both the British and the American versions or just the American version. I would love to see the original British version. I thought the show was brilliant, but I always like to see the original of anything.

Anonymous said...


OUTSTANDING job as a talking head on The Wire documentaries.

Anonymous said...

Very well done finale.

I only wish I could appreciate all the British pop culture references; especially the guest cameos (who were those two guys trying to get into The Ivy).

Anonymous said...

This was fantastic.

Jake said...

I thought it was good, but man... I did not think it was very funny. I don't mean there weren't funny moments (the craft service table scene was pretty great), but the general tone of the finale was so painful and sad. Which is okay, I guess, although not what I was hoping for.

And I thought the execution leading up to Andy's revelation was a little rough, too--he had been humiliated continuously for months at that point--why was it then that he realized he had become a fame-chasing douchebag? Why not when he suddenly couldn't get into the restaurant (echoing the other has-beens)? And he's not been portrayed as a moron up until now--why is he suddenly oblivious to how much of a dick he's become?

I don't mean to say it was terribly done, but I think a lot of the character/plot developments were as on-the-nose as the final monologue (which I found quite touching and effective, actually).

I suspect I would have found the Big Brother stuff much funnier if I had ever seen any version of the show, but even without that it seemed like a dead-on parody/imitation/homage. And there were several other funny moments, too--it's just that they were so overshadowed by the drama, in the end (and not just the usual cringiness of a Merchant/Gervais joint).

baggsey said...

In response to lungfish's question regarding the two guys trying to get into The Ivy :
They were two comedians Gareth Hale and Norman Pace, who as "Hale & Pace" had their own very successful TV show in the UK in the 90s, and were all over the media, but have subsequently dropped from the limelight. I'd forgotten them myself until I saw this show.

Dana Henderson said...

Not entirely sure why, but the part that really had me laughing the most was when Maggie is crying in the Carphone Warehouse, and Darren asks Barry for the box of tissues, blows his nose and hands them back. So Hilarious.

Anonymous said...

I agree that moment was great dana, but to me it was very much a rip off of the Dwight consoling Pam scene in the US office where he took off his jacket and then wrapped it around his waist instead of wrapping it round her.

I thought it was in parts very good, but in others awful. I know I haven't been in that situation but the constant jockying for position in his mind between the desire for fame and his need to be respected as an artist came off very forced to me. I agree that the final monlogue was brilliant, with the very sweet callback, but I think it was in large part let-down by what came before (such as the scene where he wraps up filming on the last episode of the sitcom, which just came across as wildly unrealistic).

Then there was my usual problem of Maggie's varying degrees of stupidity to help push jokes and the plot. It wasn't quite as bad as a large portion of season 2, such as the BAFTAs episode, but it is the thing that takes me out of the show more than anything.

One interesting thing I think, is that despite the polemic against 'fame' and the media's devotion to it, is the fact that Ricky has often said (including the radio show he did and on some interviews) that he and his partner regularly watch the big reality shows. I'm not sure how that transposes itself into how I feel about the speech, as I can separate the writer and the work, but it does come across as slightly hypocritical when you are so vitriolic, if justified, in your attack on something when you help feed the beast.

I know you won't agree with this Alan, but ultimately I enjoyed it in much the same way as Studio 60. It was maddeningly inconsistent, the tonal shifts were often awkward and unwieldy and there were things that left me wanting to tear my hair out, but the good just outweighed the bad.

Anonymous said...

To fill in any gaps of knowledge to our American friends here's a little bit of info on the celeb cameos in the show:

The two men trying to get into The Ivy are 80s/90s comedy duo Hale & Pace.

The man who forgets Andy's name in The Ivy is Vernon Kay, a gameshow host.

The guy working with Shaun/Barry and Darren in Carphone Warehouse is Dean Gaffney, another ex-Eastenders star now more famous for being a nightclub sleaze than an actor.

The man who doesn't want Andy's autograph outside The Ivy is Karl Pilkington, Gervais & Merchant's old radio producer and podcast superstar.

In the Big Brother house:

The black woman (not the one with the murdered son, the other one) is June Sarpong, a youth TV presenter.

The dancing guy is Lionel Blair, a popular entertainer for 50 years now known for his work in pantomime.

The fat guy is Toby Foster, an excellent stand-up comedian (and someone I've had the pleasure to have a pint with).

The white woman with short hair is Lisa Scott-Lee, a former member of pop band Steps, whose biggest hit was a cover of the Bee Gees song Tragedy, hence her singing it during the show.

The young guy is Chico, runner up on the X-Factor, a reality show similar in format to American Idol.

Presumably most of you are familiar with Gordon Ramsey, David Tennant, George Michael and Clive Owen so I shan't say any more about them.

And in reference to an earlier comment about Gervais' "dumbing down" of the episode for the American audience: tailoring something to it's market isn't dumbing down, leaving in several gags that Americans with no knowledge of British popular culture would understand would be pointless.

Anonymous said...

OK. Finally saw it.

Alan, have you ever seen such a true-to-life performance on television better than Gervais' last monologue?

I kept hitting rewind. Millman's teary eyes, Maggie sitting up. Darren saying he's a good mate. All of it was phenomenal payoff for what was a very dark and lonely descent that all the characters underwent.

That scene. That scene alone is why I truly believe Ricky Gervais is one of the geniuses of this generation.

Jason said...

Anyone who thinks Ricky Gervais is a comedy dementor hasn't heard his podcast. Brilliant, smart guy.

And I have to admit it, I prefer "Extras" to "The Office."

Anonymous said...

"What does Sadie Frost do?"

"She's friends with people."

Anonymous said...

Finally saw it. My one-word review: "Dickensian."

And, as I don't think it's been mentioned here yet, Andy's interview with the woman from the Guardian is perhaps the second most cringeworthy five minutes of television ever. (The most cringeworthy five minutes were during Maggie's encounter with Clive Owen.)

A great send off to a truly great show.

Anonymous said...

Spent the week watching season two on demand in order to watch the finale. Great TV. Ironic that in order to "grow up," Maggie finally tells a little white lie for Andy (to Darren, at the BBC).

Unknown said...

Thank you for talking so enthusiastically about "Extras"--I watched the entire series On Demand tonight, and was just floored. The relationship between Andy and Maggie is one of the best male-female relationships I've ever seen on TV.

Anonymous said...

I was happy to find this review. I enjoyed the finale very much. I know it was kind of dark but I think it was handled perfectly.

I'm curious if anyone knows what is the song they 3 guys dance to at Cellphone Warehouse is? I am dying to get it as my ringtone!!


Anonymous said...


I just watched the finale tonight, April Fools day 2010, and just in case you ever read this I wanted to weigh in my appreciation that you did comment on this series. Indeed I think this show is one of those that will be recommended and passed along to friends via Netflix for the next decade. It's short enough a run that it's not a big commitment and endearing enough that you need only watch one disk to be hooked.

I was prompted to queue the series in Netflix after having listened to the Gervais-Merchant-Pilkington podcasts (now being given a new life as an animated HBO series) which were recorded around the time of Extras series. Indeed Pilkington aficionados will often notice little call backs to things mentioned by Karl in the podcasts. For example, Andy the farting slug immediately reminded me of Karl's ruminations on the sad existence of the slug (pronounced sloog by Karl) who only gets to come out of his "den" when it's raining and has a very depressing diet of feces. I'm sure there must be a website somewhere dedicated to these easter egg cross-references.

In the years since this Extras finale we've had a lot of crappy final shows (hoping Lost will break that cycle) and against that lot the Extras extra special special stands out as a charmed piece of writing. Sublimely balanced between sentimental and camp it elicited the profound. I sat down to watch the finale feeling depressed as this would be the last and got up feeling content: The ending was just that perfect. There was no one thing you could point to but the whole was a truly great and satisfying ending. So cheers to Ricky and Steve (with a walk-on appearance by Karl - just look for the round head that looks like a f'king orange). And thank you Alan for your insightful (as always) comments on the series. -anonymoose