Every so often, England hits the comedic mark and creates a benchmark to which all else must aspire; Monthy Python, Dad's Army, Fawlty Towers, Only Fools and Horses and, of course, the simply faultless "The Office". The writing team of Gervais and Merchant crafted in that series some of the most achingly funny and desperately well observed depictions of the human condition ever committed to film. "The Office" struck a particular chord with me because I have spent most of my adult life in sales and they nailed the highs and lows of that career brilliantly.
Moving on then to their new offering; "Extras", I am happy to report that the observational skills have not deserted them. This time the central character (Andy Millman) is again played by Ricky Gervais, only, unlike his David Brent character, Millman is astute, caring and worth the time of day. Unforutnately, like Brent, he is also trapped in a spiral of underachievement.
Andy Millman is an film extra, a background artiste, who aspires to a real acting role and the central theme of each episode is his quest for a "line" in each film in which he appears in the background. Along side him is his (seemingly) only friend, a frustrated thirty something woman, Maggie Jacobs (superbly played by Ashley Jensen), whose sole aim seems to be to find a husband / longterm partner. Add into this mix a chronically crap agent (Merchant himself), a nemesis in the shape of another extra who seems to be getting lines and a liberal sprinkling of cameoing "A" list guest stars and you have a wonderful platform on which to build a spankingly funny series.
And wow... do they hit a home run! Every second of each episode is deliciously funny and acutely observed. Highlights to look out for are the Ben Stiller/Dodgeball opening weekend grosses scene - the Golly scene in Maggie's apartment - the "Are you really a Catholic scene" and, above anything you will have ever seen in a TV comedy, the entire Les Dennis episode.
Les Dennis will be lost on Americans but for those of us who have followed his plunging career, you can only weep for this superbly written and judged performance. Pathos doesn't even begin to cover it.
Also, anyone who can look at Kate Winslet again without thinking of that "phone sex" scene is a better man than me.
Please, please, watch "Extras". It may, for some, be an acquired taste but once you have that taste, its like a piece of Swiss chocolate - exquisite.
And no laugh track either - yay England.
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