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Tuesday, 25 December 2007

The Liverpool Nativity, BBC3
Did we like it?
Despite the many flaws, this production should be lauded rather than lambasted because of its courageousness to dabble with the static, stagnant format of conventional TV; and in doing so it justifies BBC3’s existence as a trialling ground for new programmes.

What was good about it?
• The lead actors Jodie McNee as Mary and Kenny Thompson as Joseph, with the narrative transposed from the Middle-East to a pseudo-fascistic Liverpool of the present day/ future (we were never quite sure).
• Notwithstanding some dreadful dialogue and dodgy locations (the ferry across the Mersey for example), both emerged with great credit for instilling their performances with passion and verve that transported you away from the ropey backdrops and limp storyline, and so you were simply drawn into their flight from the camp clutches of ‘Herodia’ (Cathy Tyson), a hybrid of Adolf Hitler and Julian Clary.
• The format of centring the action with a live audience while the narrative unfolds around the rest of the city is, perhaps because of the flagellatingly formulaic nature of almost all TV, as thrilling as an innovation of colour TV because even though what you may be watching might be distinctly underwhelming (as Liverpool Nativity sometimes was), there is an intoxicating element of excitement in observing it.
• Despite Cathy Tyson’s strained vocals, her version of Reward captured some of the supercilious ardour of Teardrop Explodes.
• The most unexpected, and welcome, song was Icicle Works’ lost classic Love Is A Wonderful Colour.
• Geoffrey Hughes (Onslow in Keeping Up Appearances) was the host/Angel Gabriel who kept the story ticking along. At times, he was infuriatingly annoying, but gradually we got used to him in the same way as you become accustomed to your granddad reeking of tobacco.
• One of the Magi was played by the bloke who was Mick in Brookside, but as he didn’t have cause to pull an expression of volcanic rage we hardly recognised him.
• And one of the once ubiquitous McGann brothers played another of the Magi (Joe, we think).

What was bad about it?
• Unlike the Manchester Passion, the cloven weakness of the Liverpool Nativity was the paucity of musical heritage (and even Manchester was abased by the gutless bombast of M People). Aside from the highlights mentioned above, each time the cast cleared their throats to sing you thought, “Oh no, here comes another bloody Beatles/ John Lennon/ George Harrison number.” And it was only a small mercy that we weren’t subjected to McCartney’s Mull of Kintyre, We All Stand Together or Dance Tonight.
• Of those others we could identify, The Zutons song was as uninspired as the original, while the La’s There She Goes is every bit as much a grating novelty one hit wonder as Agadoo (although Black Lace also had Superman).
• Some appalling dialogue: “Did you know the origin of the name magi was magician? And tonight they’re going to be magic!” While Mary and Joseph exchanged, “I love you, Joseph!” “I would do anything for you, Mary!”
• Geoffrey Hughes’ incessant references to how great Liverpool was, which had all the frantic desperation of a sailor marooned in shark-infested sea believing that he won’t attract the attention of Great Whites if he doesn’t tread water as vigorously. “We’ve got lots of lovely girls here in Liverpool! Come on give us a wave, girls!”
• While Gabriel’s dialogue sometimes oscillated unevenly between Biblical scripture, mechanical instruction manual speak and a night’s clubbing in Cream, sometimes in the space of one sentence: “I know it’s a massive headtrip [for Joseph], what with the visa application and everything.”
• The version of You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) was performed by Herodia and her stormtroopers with all the conservative meekness as if Neil and Christine Hamilton were covering it.

To The Manor Born, BBC1

Did we like it?
We were excited about welcoming the TV equivalent of an elderly aunt back into our home, but she turned out to be a pale shadow of her former self, cracking jokes that would shame a cracker maker and losing her thread like a badly made scarf.

What was good about it?
• The theme tune was good. The manor still looked nice. And some vague vapour trails of the sitcom's legendary power struggles remained.
• The put-upon butler, played well by Alan David.

What was bad about it?
• Penelope Keith and Peter Bowles struggled to get much out of the weak script which was dominated by banal banter (eg the Meldrewish rant about on-hold music from Vivaldi), fuzzy attempts at being contemporary (although Ecstacy is so last decad and Arctic Monkeys are very last year) and silly misunderstandings.
• The nightclub scene could have been a classic but was just awkward and obvious.
• Alexander Armstrong also sunk beneath the waves, spending most the of the time reacting with undeserved chortles to Audrey and Richard's 'wit' or just hovering with his bald patch in shot.
• Angela Thorne struggled, too, as hapless Marjorie, although her coyness around Alexander's dashing character was one of the better aspects.
• The script could have got some sharp mileage out of the arrival of Eastern European labour into rural England, but it sank to Mind Your Language levels (eg "The crudit?s are on the sideboard").

Christmas At The Riviera, ITV1

Did we like it?
A pretty good festive comedy drama, which was sprinkled with slightly too much seasonal saccharine and was perhaps half-an-hour too long.

What was good about it?
• ITV1 seemed to have steadfastly resolved to pillage actors from classic BBC sitcoms from the past 30 years in the hope that they will congeal into a hilarious comedy drama through their own fertile talent.
• And despite our misgivings about the scattergun nature of this technique it did yield dividends as we enjoyed The League of Gentlemen’s Reece Shearsmith as the hapless assistant hotel manager who is thrust into the role of manager after incumbent manager Barry’s (who played Julius in The Thick of It) father was taken ill.
• Shearsmith played Ashley as a more likeable version of the vindictive Ollie Plimsolls of LOG’s legendary Legs Akimbo Theatre Company, who evntully achieved some kind of spiritual redemption after he rescues Maurice from the burning hotel.
• Maurice was played by Warren Clarke who agreeably sleepwalked through his role as the bumptious, officious ex-copper (think Dalziel without the wit), but who ultimately gained some humility as he slowly realised than no one other than his long suffering wife Rita (Barbara Flynn) actually liked him.
• Sam Kelly (Porridge and ’Allo ’Allo) as Dennis and Darren Boyd (Saxondale) as Tim were the father and son who had come to Eastbourne to scatter the ashes of their wife/mother Muriel in the town where Dennis and she had first met. He had developed a debilitating obsession with Muriel’s ashes, such as when Tim was driving to the hotel with her urn strapped in the backseat like a child. “”Don’t drive so fast,” scolded Dennis, “you know your mother gets car sick!”
• Alexander Armstrong (Beast) was philandering clergyman Miles who spent his whole time at the hotel keeping his illicit dalliance with a younger member of the cloth ‘Melons’ (Katherine Jakeways – The IT Crowd) secret from his wife Diane (Anna Chancellor) while battling his angina ailment. They also provided the funniest gag after Diane had learnt of her husband’s infidelity, he timorously said: “It’s two minutes past midnight! It’s Christmas Day!” “Why don’t you open your present now?” she replied acidly, handing him a bent and twisted golf club covered with torn wrapping paper.
• Peter Vaughan (Porridge) was the grumpy hotel porter who acted as Ashley’s dissatisfied father figure whom he forever strove to impress, something he eventually accomplished after he saved Maurice.

What was bad about it?
• That familiar jarring effect of comedy crashing into drama. Alongside the comic potential of each character was an often tedious sub-story – Tim had just split up with his girlfriend after she got bored of him, hotel flirt Avril was suffering from cancer and Diane was an alcoholic. And when Maurice’s son Christopher told his father “I just can’t stand you”, we felt nothing more than a mental shrug of the shoulders.
• It quickly established that annoying sense of fatality about the situations of whatever can go wrong will go wrong, which is hilarious in the hands of say Laurel & Hardy but met with mixed results here. For every moment of mirth such as Muriel’s ashes ending up in the turkey stuffing and when Tim and Dennis subsequently try to scatter her ashes on the pond only to be set upon by “wild swans” there were two moments of predictability such as the carol congregation crashing through the frozen pond, Miles getting trapped in a sauna with a young woman in nothing more than a towel or the underused Rasmus Hardiker as incompetent kitchen worker Luke becoming concussed after falling down the chimney dressed as Santa Claus.
• It was doused in a voluble spray of nauseating festive cheer as it had a happy ending with Ashley earning his spurs as hotel manager, Tim and Dennis finding love in the arms of Diane and Avril respectively and Maurice evolving a conscience. We’re surprised they didn’t have an epilogue when they all turn up on LK Today to be fawned over by a beaming Lorraine.

Britain's Number One Soap Fan/Now That's What I Call Television/Keith Barry – The Escape Live, ITV1

Did we like this light entertainment triple whammie?
We knew we'd hate the cheapness, the naffness, the pathetic glitziness and the reliance on talent-lacking losers (ie "celebs"). Yet we hoped there would be some redeeming features – a bit of wit, a smidgeon of clever production, a worthy contributor accidentally turning up. We hoped in a bottomless pit of vain. Not a shred of merit appeared in any of the programmes.
What was good about the three-hour marathon?
• Are you taking the mickey? Even Five at its lowest ebb produces light entertainment better than this.

What was bad about it?
• Britain's Number One Soap Fan would have been ill-advised even in daytime. Bradley Walsh, looking like he'd slept in his car, is nowhere near good enough to present in primetime. Competing for a coveted trip to the Corrie and Emmerdale sets (where actual actors stand around saying words), the weird, unfortunate contestants were corralled through a series of boring games. And the "star guests" amounted to Sid Owen, that awful Fizz from Corrie and long-forgotten Malandra Burrows who, serving them so right, were forced into uncomfortable encounters with their adoring fans.
• Now That's What I Call Television with autocue-addict Des Lynam and Fern Bitton twittering away in between old TV clips, sucking up to the exhumed cast of Howards' Way, plus Linda Gray and Nigel Havers, cracking cringeworthy jokes and generally turning memory lane into a place best to be avoided even if your SatNav keeps insisting you turn into it.
• Keith Barry – The Escape Live starred an Irish magician, styled on Rhydian, who can't even conjure up a shred of charisma. Most of the show was occupied by mindless mindgames played on the lowest of the low (eg dim Dean Gaffney, desperate Denise Van Outen, brainless Brian Dowling, elephantine Eammon Holmes, a squealing Emmerdale trollop) before the hyped-up live conclusion when Keith was "tied up" in a rope and vowed he'd escape from a shed before it was blown to smithereens. Mark Durden-Smith got another undeserved cheque, appinted to crank up the tension (there was none) with some abysmal acting when the shed blew up before Barry emerged (Don't worry, he was alright. Actually, do worry, he might end up with another show in ITV's barren future).

The Shadow In The North, BBC1

Did we like it?
It was well-acted and well-staged but it hardly snatched away the rapidly-beating heart from your taut breast and made away to the hills, largely because of the rushed denouement.
What was good about it?
* Billie Piper impressed as the impetuous Sally Lockheart, a financial adviser who pledges to save her reputation after one of her clients complains that an investment endorsed by Sally has caused her ruin after the company went into liquidation in suspicious circumstances.
* Her determination to achieve justice for her client expressed far more than a banker’s thirst for fiscal retribution, it showed a more profound sense of righteousness especially as her resolve was hardened by the attempts on the lives of the scatty magician McKinnon (Julian Rhind-Tutt) and his friend Isabel.
* A labyrinthine plot that involved a weapon of mass destruction, the design of which was appropriated through murder by the dastardly Axel Bellman (the stoically menacing Jared Harris), who then set about killing anybody who dared interfere with his plans to manufacture his railway carriage that sprayed the immediate vicinity with a hail of bullets, primarily marketing it as a mobile iron fist for governments to oppress their populations.
* Along the way he dispatched his former business partner who invented the machine of death but got cold feet when he paddled in his bracing morals, Sally’s faithful dog and her foppish boyfriend Frederick (JJ Feild).
* Many scenes benefited from a slow build up of tension – the assassination attempt against Sally, the séance – and this helped add drama and thrills to a predictable, if enjoyable, plot.
* One of the most enjoyable facts about the plot was that it jarred pleasurably because although set in the Victorian era many of the themes were very modern , or were themes associated with modernity, such as corporate fraud and murder to smooth over corruption. This was then further enhanced by the restricted ways in which the heroic characters could respond to the growing threat i.e. they couldn’t use mobile phones or the internet.

What was bad about it?
* Even though was no tension with regards to the identity of the fiendish Bellman, the way in which Sally strode boldly into his lair before he delivered an ingenuous villain’s exposition justifying his murderous deeds because of a greater altruistic purpose lacked any sort of drama. Her false pledge to marry him after he had bizarrely proposed, and his even more bizarre blind acceptance of her betrothal added an unwanted spare tyre of absurdity.
* And this was topped off by Sally’s efforts to destroy the diabolical railway carriage, during which she first set off its firing mechanism cutting Bellman to ribbons before it exploded. Even though there was a sweet irony in seeing Bellman hoist by his own petard, it did seem a facile way for the villain to be dispatched while Sally preserved her moral virtues.
* The inherent piety or malice of each character was more often than not determined by their superficial beauty, with the obvious exception of Isabel who stood as a figure of pity for Sally. Sally, Frederick, Jim (the impressive Matt Smith) and even McKinnon were all blessed with divine pulchritude, while even those in the autumn of their lives had a dashing, arresting charisma about them such as Webster and Nellie.
* But the baddies were all cursed with the indelible stain of ugliness, perhaps to flippantly explain their ingrained evil – Jared Harris, while quite handsome, was marred by sideburns that you could have used a pirates’ plank, while Phil Cornwell was a bedraggled henchmen, and his partner resembled a displaced boulder with eyes.

Extras, BBC2/BBC1

Extras, BBC2, Thursday 14 September 2006
Did we like it?
Actually we were a little disappointed. There's genius at work here and lots of brilliant moments but it felt like we were watching an over-extended in-joke and writers Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant were trying far too hard to impress.

What was good about it?
• Ashley Jensen's Maggie stole the show. While Andy's now writing a BBC sitcom, she's still an extra ( “support artist!!!” or maybe even "a fuzzy blob in the background"), working as a juror on a lame legal drama (but unable to show the rapt attention displayed by the other jurors). The best scenes involved an old friend, now a proper actress who had been "plucked from the cesspool", and we loved it when Maggie shut the horrible bitch up by snogging an insistent Orlando Bloom.
• Orlando's obsession with where he comes in silly lists in celeb mags and women's weeklies – and his gloating when he managed to outrank Johnny Depp ( "Willy Wonka. Johnny Wanker").
• Keith Chegwin's guest role (called in to appear in Andy's sitcom when Paul Shane dropped out). Not as memorable as Les Dennis's self-depreciation but funny nevertheless. Cheggers couldn't deliver his line – "I buried my sister today" – without his trademark grin and giggle but got all serious when it came to attacking the "Jews and queers" who run the BBC. "If God had wanted a cock up an arse, he wouldn't have given us minges," he whispered to an embarrassed Andy.
• "There are loads of funny English black people, too," insisted Andy to racist Cheggers, but he was unable to summon up a name, even when looking directly at a poster of Lenny Henry in his Katanga guise.
• Agent Darren's positive spin on the sitcom which Andy now realises is not going to stand the test of time. It's going to be catchphrase-ridden rubbish (the uninventive BBC execs will ensure that's the case): "People will watch as it's after EastEnders and they can't be bothered to change channels. Those sorts of morons will help us win the ratings war. And ratings in the end are what counts. And merchandise!”
• Sean Williamson as the washed-up Barry from EastEnders, cramming as much of the buffet as he could down his jacket, desperate to take on any role, and performing a scene from his one-man version of Romeo & Juliet in such an overwrought manner that he brought tears to the eyes of agent Darren (played with brilliant idiocy by Merchant).
• Andy's look of amazed, distraught incomprehension when everyone around him acts like an idiot
• Liza Tarbuck
• The audience members wearing T-shirts sporting the logos Wassup, I'm a Lady and It's Chico Time.

What was bad about it?
• Andy's factory-based sitcom Whistle Down The Wind was supposed to parody all those useless Friday night BBC1 sitcoms but it resembled a 1970s ITV sitcom instead and was less effective as a result.
• Andy's collapse in the face of pressure from the head of comedy (always playing safe) and his camp sidekick (so inane that he finds wigs and big glasses funny).
• Orlando's spoof legal drama wasn't funny enough to open the show.
• The spark between Andy and Maggie was missed, now they are working apart.
• The jokes about Maggie being unattractive to men don't work because she's a golden-haired beauty not a mousey-haired munter.
• Ricky and Steve are obviously enthralled/appalled by the TV industry. While we could all recognise something in The Office, Extras seems like a private joke and it's much harder to find it funny – or care.
• "Are you 'avin' a laugh?"

Extras, BBC1
Did we like it?
A mostly awful morass of indulgence, hypocrisy and spite with only one or two bolts of inspiration screwed ineptly into the script.

What was good about it?
• Ashley Jensen as Maggie, as, despite her character being liquidised to the state of gurgling cipher to play off against the demise of Andy’s career, she still managed to make Maggie fun and likeable. As she and Andy drove off to the airport at the end, you were glad that she had found happiness whereas you didn’t give a damn about him.
• The Smiths’ Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want.
• Shaun Pye as the sinister Greg, Andy’s nemesis, who was as creepy and made the skin crawl as much as Peter Lorre in M.

What was bad about it?
• The non-capitalised opening credits which is often a harbinger of preening pomposity, though still way below the irritation of the Will & Grace credits.
• The most indulgent cameo in the history Extras was George Michael’s. Andy had recently bought a new flat which just happened to overlook a cruising hotspot. On a walk he inadvertently sat on the ‘waiting bench’, only for a little while later for Michael to cruise by on his lunch break from community service with a joint and a kebab. It wasn’t funny, it had absolutely no relation to the rest of the plot and seemed to be a cynical insert best suited to the ‘DVD box set’ (which currently stands at number three in the Most Loathsome Phrase in the English Language chart), but was in the final edit as Michael was cynically inserted into the promo posters.
• The appeal of Extras was always going to pall when you allow the big stars the indulgence of sending themselves up by adopting the persona of a vile grotesque. While it worked with some – Patrick Stewart, Kate Winslet – Clive Owen ‘revealed’ himself to be a nasty, haughty prig (like just about everyone else who has appeared in the series) refusing to go along with the script that had him sleeping with Maggie who was in the role of a prostitute – “I wouldn’t pay for that…”
• The most spiteful element of Extras had at its root the assessment of Andy by his new agent Tre. As Andy bleated about being typecast in whacky cheap comedy roles, Tre warned: “There are only a few people in the world who have both fame and fortune and integrity and respect – and you will never be one of them.”
• That statement intruded on reality because it almost appeared that it was a conscious eulogy to Gervais’ own perceived genius. He has fame and fortune and perhaps still integrity and respect. And so this sentiment about being famous but facile or respected but poor appeared to be an arrogant pot shot at ‘lesser mortals’ who strive to straddle the same divide as Gervais.
• Yes, Jade Jagger and Sadie Frost are deserving of sneers and derision (as does anyone involved in the vacuous bastion of the fashion industry), but these sneers must evolve from wearied disgust at seeing the worthless blindly lauded not from the puerile insecurity of a slightly-fading star who wishes to kick away the ladder to fame and fortune and respect and a monthly booking on Tonight With Jonathan Ross to prevent others usurping his throne. Not surprisingly, the bitterness of Andy towards his drowning fame rang most truthful amid the rest of the snide set ups.
• And this avalanche of arrogance dispelled the notion that Gervais might actually be parodying himself. Tre to Andy: “Someone says ‘You’re a wanker’. You say, ‘Look at my sports car’.” Only Gervais would refer to his Emmys instead.
• The way once Maggie quit as an extra, she immediately plummeted to, at least what we instructed to think, was the nadir of employment as a cleaner. Despite Jensen’s laudable performance, Maggie, like all the characters, is just too flimsily drawn and it was contrived in order to elicit the sympathy of the viewer that she slipped so far down the wire so quickly. On the other hand, Darren and Shaun Williamson’s descent to working in a branch of The Carphone Warehouse was paradoxically more believable because they are unbelievable caricatures.
• The set up of The Ivy restaurant as some blessed kingdom of Heaven into which only the favoured are admitted. Our impression is that it is London’s largest cesspit inhabited by brain-damaged slugs and simpering cardboard cut outs who wouldn’t burn if you set about them with a flame thrower but would stand in a frigid pose of unsated desperation for all eternity.
• Gordon Ramsay can’t act, and his argument with Andy was the least convincing conflict since the nauseatingly faux machismo displayed by Ricky Hatton and Floyd Mayweather to induce millions of slack-jawed human crowbars to fork out to watch their recent bout.
• The Celebrity Big Brother chapter (it was far too close to the truth to be a spoof) was no more horrifying or clawing as the real thing. The celebrities who appeared perversely now seem more desperate than if they had appeared on CBB because they are knowingly on a comedy show vilifying a show that they typically would be asked to appear on (and indeed some of them already have).
• Andy’s rant about celebrity culture contained not one original thought that hasn’t been expressed a thousand times before. And the way in which his furious speech catapulted him back to stardom when all he had done was enunciate a few trite observations was another dreary facsimile of celebrity culture seen far too often for it to make an acerbic punchline.
• The casually racist estate agent was pointless other than to allow conceitedly left-wing wine tasters to chuckle at their ideological superiority.
• At times, the first two series of Extras became too excruciating to watch. This was one of its most attractive features, but here so sense of embarrassment on Andy’s behalf remained for you no longer cared one way or the other if he was humiliated by his agent as you were dumped headfirst into a tar pit of apathy.

Extras, BBC2
What to say if you liked it
Chameleonic comic Ricky Gervais dextrously metamorphoses his scaly iridescent skin from the toady grotesque David Brent to the cynical misanthrope Andy Millman.
What to say of you didn’t like it
A comedian with so little talent he would be snubbed by the Association of One-Trick Ponies dutifully and charmlessly churns out a craven vehicle for Hollywood “stars” to prove how self-effacing they are.

What was good about it?
• Ben Stiller playing an egomaniacal caricature of himself (at least we hope it was). Explaining why he wanted to make a film about the murder of Bosnian Goran’s family, “Ben” began by listing the impressive box office receipts from all his recent films before
launching into a hilarious monologue about what he could do for an orphan of the war. “If I find an orphan persecuted for his race, what am I gonna do? Pop on Dodgeball on DVD? I can pop on Dodgeball, and he’s gonna laugh for an hour and 32 minutes. But what happens when the film finishes? Back to reality; still an orphan. How am I going to help him? Put on Dodgeball again? Sure he’s going to laugh again. He’ll see things he didn’t see the first time. It’s layered. It was made like that.”
• While The Office relied largely on observation, Extras reveals a greater depth to writing talents of Gervais and Stephen Merchant. This episode expertly exposes how in the celluloid world, a tragedy such as the Balkan conflict soon merely becomes a disposable expedience for all factions to channel their ambition through. “Ben Stiller” was a successful film star who could generate millions through his fluffy, inconsequential
movies, but who was spiritually bereft and so appropriates a profound topic with which to attain enduring credibility and kudos. Possibly inspired by Bono.
• Andy Millman merely sees Goran’s poignant tale as a way to extort some lines in the film. He gives Goran a sympathetic ear and bribes him with gift vouchers “for Top Shop” in the hope he can persuade Goran to convince Ben to award him some dialogue. And even Goran himself uses the film to acquire those trivial materialistic badges of Western perdition like clothes from Top Shop, Heat magazine and at one point he complains to “Ben” about his coca cola not being cold.
• Andy’s crass efforts to ingratiate himself with Goran, such as when Goran passes him a photograph of his wife, “I shouldn’t look at that one, she’s sunbathing,” “She’s dead.”
• Andy’s efforts to bluff his way into the good books of the producer who is surrounded by a harem of beautiful women. After the producer lets slip a love of Japanese cinema, Andy fabricates a façade of being a fan of Seven Samurai director Akira Kurosawa until he clumsily proclaims a love for all films with numbers in such as Ocean’s 11 and The Dirty Dozen ("that's as much as you can take").
• Ashley Jensen as fellow film extra Maggie. She pursues romance with the same vigour as Andy pursues lines, but she also shares his fastidiousness and cruelly rejects the lovely John because of his slight disability of having one leg longer than the other.
• The mundane nature of the extras’ job is skilfully segued into the script so it rarely seemed like introductory exposition.
• The conclusion when Stiller’s patience with Goran runs out and he screams, “Will you stop going on about your fucking dead wife!”
• "Never get involved with a man whose wife has been murdered. Rule number one. She's gone out on a high like Jimmy Dean and Marilyn Monroe."
• Maggie clumsily chatting up John with a bullet hole on her forehead – and then clumsily trying to get out of Jackie's drinks party by inventing a sick sister
• Ben pulling a gun on the mother of a child actor who had giggled on set.
• Ben demonstrating how to savagely attack an old lady with a rifle butt

What was bad about it?
• Ricky Gervais said he was glad Kate Winslet didn’t win an Oscar as this would have ruined one of the Extras scripts, but he must have felt a similar twinge of discomfort when he learned this episode, which deals with “Ben Stiller’s” efforts to make a documentary about genocide in the Balkan conflicts of the mid-90s, was to be broadcast shortly after the 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre (which was exacerbated by the uncovering of recent film of the slaughter). While the satire did caustically criticise those who exploit such tragedies, employing such an event to carry a comedy still seemed in poor taste, albeit inadvertently.
• One theme that ran through The Office was the mockery of the disabled, the disgust of which was partly stifled by the producer of the show being in a wheelchair himself and that it was the odious David Brent who was mostly guilty of the insensitivity. But in Extras the disabled are, rather tiresomely, again a target for Gervais’s humour. Having been temporarily disabled in the recent past, we can quite claim with some authority that such humour quickly palls to those who suffer from such ailments.
• When Andy tries to justify Maggie turning down John’s offer to go on somewhere else he claims his friend does not discriminate whether they’re “black, white or yellow” referring to a Japanese-American friend of the producer sitting nearby. It seems like a recycled joke from The Office, in particular when David Brent got confused about which of his Asian workers confused could do an Ali G impression.
• The lack of sympathetic characters. Andy, Maggie and “Ben” were amoral almost beyond redemption, while even Goran was badly flawed. The only pleasant character
was John, and he was merely a stooge for Andy and Maggie’s spite.
• Andy's shellsuit, chest wig and slicked back hair

Debut Thursday 21 July 2005, BBC2
Sitcom written by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, thge pair who created The Office.
Gervais stars as wise-cracking failed actor Andy Millman who is just a lowly film extra. With Ashley Jenson as Maggie Jacobs, Andy's hopelessly romantic best friend and fellow extra, and Stephen Merchant as Andy's agent.
Guests include Ross Kemp, Kate Winslet, Ben Stiller, Samuel L Jackson, Vinnie Jones and Les Dennis.

Episode guide
1 – Andy and Maggie are working on a gritty drama about atrocities in the Balkans directed by Hollywood star Ben Stiller. Andy is fed-up with being pushed around in the mud for little reward, so while Maggie pursues the man of her dreams, Andy decides he'll do whatever it takes to get himself noticed.
Highlights
• Ben Stiller playing an egomaniacal caricature of himself (at least we hope it was). Explaining why he wanted to make a film about the murder of Bosnian Goran’s family, “Ben” began by listing the impressive box office receipts from all his recent films before
launching into a hilarious monologue about what he could do for an orphan of the war. “If I find an orphan persecuted for his race, what am I gonna do? Pop on Dodgeball on DVD? I can pop on Dodgeball, and he’s gonna laugh for an hour and 32 minutes. But what happens when the film finishes? Back to reality; still an orphan. How am I going to help him? Put on Dodgeball again? Sure he’s going to laugh again. He’ll see things he didn’t see the first time. It’s layered. It was made like that.”
• While The Office relied largely on observation, Extras reveals a greater depth to writing talents of Gervais and Stephen Merchant. This episode expertly exposes how in the celluloid world, a tragedy such as the Balkan conflict soon merely becomes a disposable expedience for all factions to channel their ambition through. “Ben Stiller” was a successful film star who could generate millions through his fluffy, inconsequential
movies, but who was spiritually bereft and so appropriates a profound topic with which to attain enduring credibility and kudos. Possibly inspired by Bono.
• Andy Millman merely sees Goran’s poignant tale as a way to extort some lines in the film. He gives Goran a sympathetic ear and bribes him with gift vouchers “for Top Shop” in the hope he can persuade Goran to convince Ben to award him some dialogue. And even Goran himself uses the film to acquire those trivial materialistic badges of Western perdition like clothes from Top Shop, Heat magazine and at one point he complains to “Ben” about his coca cola not being cold.
• Andy’s crass efforts to ingratiate himself with Goran, such as when Goran passes him a photograph of his wife, “I shouldn’t look at that one, she’s sunbathing,” “She’s dead.”
• Andy’s efforts to bluff his way into the good books of the producer who is surrounded by a harem of beautiful women. After the producer lets slip a love of Japanese cinema, Andy fabricates a façade of being a fan of Seven Samurai director Akira Kurosawa until he clumsily proclaims a love for all films with numbers in such as Ocean’s 11 and The Dirty Dozen ("that's as much as you can take").
• Ashley Jensen as fellow film extra Maggie. She pursues romance with the same vigour as Andy pursues lines, but she also shares his fastidiousness and cruelly rejects the lovely John because of his slight disability of having one leg longer than the other.
• The mundane nature of the extras’ job is skilfully segued into the script so it rarely seemed like introductory exposition.
• The conclusion when Stiller’s patience with Goran runs out and he screams, “Will you stop going on about your fucking dead wife!”
• "Never get involved with a man whose wife has been murdered. Rule number one. She's gone out on a high like Jimmy Dean and Marilyn Monroe."
• Maggie clumsily chatting up John with a bullet hole on her forehead – and then clumsily trying to get out of Jackie's drinks party by inventing a sick sister
• Ben pulling a gun on the mother of a child actor who had giggled on set.
• Ben demonstrating how to savagely attack an old lady with a rifle butt


2 – Maggie is heartily sick of Andy’s moaning about never getting to utter a single word and so convinces him to ask for a line from the star of the latest production he's working on as an extra. The star is "hardman" Ross Kemp who intimidates Andy with his very presence, but Kemp is soon shown up by a genuine hardman, Vinnie Jones Meanwhile, Maggie falls in love, again.
Highlights
• Andy, bedecked in the finery of a 18th century footman, shuffling into the background while stars Ross Kemp and Natasha Little shared a passionate embrace. "We'll cut before the fat little extra gets his face in," says the director.
• Ross Kemp playing up to his tough-guy image by pretending that he was actually in the SAS and that his “body is a lethal weapon.” The SAS told him "Why don't ypu give up this acting lark? We need you in Afghanistan."
• Maggie confusing Martin Kemp and Phil Mitchell as Ross Kemp’s brothers.
• Maggie getting desperate to be selected to play a buxom wench, despite a producer saying: "I said I needed some decent tits but they're rubbish."
• The catering truck chef plucking a hair from Andy's lunch with his sausage fingers.
• Andy's annoying rival Greg. "I've been in Emmerdale, Silent Wtiness. I was a nark in The Bill. That was a recurring character, three episodes. You haven't even been in The Bill."
• Maggie getting a critical mauling as she had sex with a fellow actor. "Come on, love, you're like a dead horse. Put a bit of minge around it."
• Ross Kemp, after being threatened by Vinnie Jones, reveals he's considering a role in Five's Family Affairs. "There's no bullying at Family Affairs. They're nice people."
• "What's he doing making a film?" asked Ross. "He's a bloody footballer. If Vinnie Jones comes near me looking for a fight, I will unleash hell. I'm trained. If he starts with me, I will destroy him."
• Kemp's convinced that SAS stands for Super Army Soldiers
• Kemp visualises what would happen to him in jail. "Pretty boy, I'd be in the shower just lathering up and a couple of guys would come in wanting a piece of Kemp arse."
• Shaun Williamson's cameo as a loser reduced to doing oddjobs for his agent
Lowlights
• Vinnie Jones’s lifeless and highly predictable performance when he threatened Ross after the ex-EastEnder had claimed to be harder than him.
• Jonathan Ross apparently convinced Ricky Gervais to switch the first two episodes around as the Ben Stiller story was far funnier and would make a greater impact. He was right.
* Ross Kemp's wigs for his role of Nelson.

3 – Andy has secured a small (though obviously non-speaking) role on a new film starring Kate Winslet as a nun resisting the Nazis. She discloses to Andy her frustration about the fact she’s been nominated umpteen times but has yet to win an Oscar. Meanwhile, Maggie receives some imprudent advice which she rashly heeds.
Highlights
• Andy thinks he has been asked out on a date by attractive fellow extra Suzanne whom he’s working with on a film about Nazis hunting down Jewish refugees. He complains to Maggie that he has nothing to wear – "I've got Jeremy Clarkson's clothes" – but then manages to find something suitable. Suzanne has, in fact, invited him to a Catholic religious circle and, as the camera pans around those attending dressed in drab everyday wear, Andy is garbed in a flash Saturday Night Fever white suit.
• Andy’s efforts to forlornly maintain the pretence he’s Catholic. When the priest held out a hand, Andy kissed it. Then he got tongue-tied about paedophilia practised by certain priests: "My old priest used to make me kiss him – on the ring – on his finger – was none of that going on. I’ve never been touched by a priest. I’ve been touched by God. Not in that way. Condoms! Do we need them? I don't think so! Let the free seed of love gush forth."
• Priest: “Who was your conformation saint? Andy: “St Bernard.” Priest: “Who was your priest growing up?” Andy: “Father Michael Flatley… O’Flatley.” Later, when Andy’s been rumbled; Priest: “Did Father Flatley exist? Andy: “O’Flatley.” Priest: “O’Flatley.” Andy: “No.”
• Kate Winslet’s motivation for doing a film about the Holocaust. "I don't think we need another film about the Holocaust, do we? It's like how many have there been? We get it. It was grim. Move on. I've noticed that if you do a film about the Holocaust, you're guaranteed an Oscar. I've been nominated four times. Never won. The whole world is going, 'why hasn't Winslet won one?' Schindler's bloody List, The Piano. Oscars coming out of their arse."
• Andy's agent (Stephen Merchant) getting excited that £58008 on a calculator spells boobs if you turn it upside down and forgetting the name of the script Andy has written (it's called When The Whistle Blows)
• The reaction to Suzanne's sister Francesca (Francesca Martinez), who has cerebral palsy. Maggie – "Oh God. I thought you had a fall or something." Andy – "Is she pissed or mental?"
• Kate Winslet advocating cerebral palsy as another effective stratagem for securing an Oscar. “Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot – Oscar. Dustin Hoffman in Rainman – Oscar. John Mills , Ryan’s Daughter – Oscar. You’re guaranteed an Oscar if you play a mental.”
• Kate Winsley giving advice on how to talk dirty on the telephone. "I'm aching for your long purple womb ferret." And "The slut from next door's coming into my bedroom and taking her bra off."
• Andy poking his head round the door as the SS find the hidden Jewish family.


4 – Andy finally gets a role which is more than a mere “supporting artist” when he bags a part in a pantomime alongside Les Dennis. But his dreams of stardom are interrupted by the cataclysms in Les’s personal life as he is married to a blonde, successful, and horribly ambitious, young actress.
Highlights
• Andy lands a role in Guildford's panto Aladdin with Les Dennis, who is disappointed not to have a big name co-star. “Wasn’t Christopher Biggins available?” Les complains. Director – “He was busy!?” Les – "Biggins was busy?!!! That's a nightmare."
• Andy's role requires him to wear an all-over fake tan and camp it up outrageously ("doing the queer shit" is how Les describes it).
• When Aladdin opens to a half-full house, Les has a nervous breakdown. “The empty seats aren’t laughing much.” Andy tries to get Les to return to the script. "Where do you want to go from?" he whispers. "About 1992," says Les mournfully.
• Les claiming that his lowest ebb came when he contemplated suicide during Celebrity Big Brother. But as soon as Melinda Messenger entered the house, he was distracted “by her tits.”
• Les shows off his sexy young fiancée Simone – "We asked 100 people which comedian is going to land on his feet and get his end away with an absolute cracker? You said 'Les Dennis'. Our survey said 'Ding. Top answer'."
• Andy wincing when he sees Simone snogging a stagehand.
• Gay panto director Ian Bunton ("everyone calls me Bunny") played by Gerard Kelly, in a far cry from his role as Brookside baddie Callum Finnegan.
• Bunny trying to keep his sexuality from his wife and drippy daughter Lizzie, who is part of the chorus. During a disappointing rehearsal, he calls on Lizzie to demonstrate that he wants “T&T”. “What’s that? Tits and teeth,” he slavers as she inflates her chest and smiles. “And before you accuse me of sexism, that’s my daughter.”
• As Les dries himself in front of Andy after a shower in their shared dressing room, Andy searches for something to distract him from Les’s naked crotch which is being brandished just feet from his face by fiddling with a light switch (“What does this do?”). Les causes a further horror by then miming sex.
• Andy sacrifices his night off to try to cheer up Les down the pub. Andy gets so desperate, he asks Les to do his Mavis Riley impression. He tries to laugh, but adds: "You need another one. She hasn't been on telly for 15 years." Les then does some outrageous Graham Norton impressions. An embarrassed Andy whispers: "It's Sunday. Can you keep the 'fannys' to a minimum?"
• After Les pulls a “pissed up slapper” in the pub, the couple are screwing. “Is that good?” she asks him. “I don’t really know,” Les replies in his Mavis Riley voice. “What?” she asks puzzled. “If it’s up there, I’ll give you the money meself,” Les answers. “Get off, please.”
• Maggie is forced to go to Lizzie's birthday party where the only other guests are elderly relatives and Lizzie and her father perform a party piece medley of Anything You Can Do, You're The One That I Want and Making Your Mind Up.
• The dance routine to Pilot's Magic
• Les disguises his voice to ring up Heat! to tell the magazine that Les Dennis has been spotted shopping in New Bond Street. "Don't think he can afford much round there," is the sarcastic reply.


5 – On the set of a police drama, Andy gives advice to Maggie on how to act around Samuel L Jackson, while she repays the favour when she helps him avoid the world’s most boring man.
Highlights
• In a bid to shake off “Dullard”, the most boring man in the world, Andy and Maggie pretend they are going to visit his mother’s grave, which just happens to be in a cemetery next to where they’re filming. After Maggie points to a random headstone, Andy is impelled to maintain the ropey façade including the pretence that he's Jewish. “She died in 1953,” Dullard remarks, “How old does that make you?” “52!” snaps Andy. Squinting at the birth date, Dullard exclaims: “She was born in 1893, which means she had you when she was 60!?”
• After Dullard uses emotional blackmail to coerce Andy to go out for a meal with him, Andy quits before the meal has even started. Dullard then pulls out a pair of tickets to “the Ben Elton musical We Will Rock You”, provoking Andy to repeatedly dunk his head in his tomato soup.
• Dullard's advice: "Don't get married. If you do get married, don't let her go to the greengrocers' by herself. I got suspicious. Wife going out at eight o'clock at night to buy cauliflower."
• Maggie’s clumsy romancing of black actor Dan. Her first move was to praise his work in a scene in which all he did was hold a folder and then expressed surprise that he wasn't a star. “There’s not much need for black actors on British TV,” Dan told her. “Crimewatch!” piped Maggie. "They always need a lot of black actors." Then when they go back to her flat, she becomes fearful he may think she’s a racist because of her gollywog toy. And after she fails to surreptitiously remove the gollywog from her shelf, she performs a little puppet play between the gollywog and a “white” toy which ends up with the toys screwing. Dan makes his excuses and leaves.
• Andy’s test to see if Maggie has any racist tendencies. “Who would you prefer to see with their shirt off: Brad Pitt or Trevor McDonald?” “Who is the Prime Minister of Britain? And of Namibia?” “Who is the Queen of England? And the president of Djibouti?” “Who would you want waiting for you when you got home: Johnny Depp or OJ Simpson?”
• Andy offending Samuel L Jackson with his hamfisted attempt to show he's not racist.
• The squabble in which extras and proper actors are made to have their lunch on different buses.


6 – The august authority of Patrick Stewart helps Andy secure a real acting role in a new BBC show. But when Andy and his agent visit the corporation, their chances are potentially ruined by Maggie’s careless talk.
Highlights
• When Andy politely delivers his script for a sitcom to Patrick Stewart, the actor regales him with a précis of his own screenplay about “a man who controls the world with his mind”. The sparse narrative concerns Stewart encountering women – from beautiful
ladies on the street and fussy policewomen to Posh Spice and lesbian prisoners of war – whom he makes all their clothes fall off. They all vainly try to protect their modesty, but Stewart lustily confides: “I’ve seen everything.”
• Andy and his extra nemesis Greg arguing. Andy to a smug Greg: “While you were at school swotting up on Shakespeare, I was out shagging birds.” Maggie interjects: “Really. You told me you didn’t have sex until you were 22. You told me you lost your virginity to a woman that looked like Ronnie Corbett.” An even smugger Greg raises a pair of imaginary glasses and sniggers: “And it’s goodnight from me.”
• After Darren, Andy’s agent, unsuccessfully tries to deceive him that the BBC picked up his comedy script because of his own tireless endeavour, he moves on to try to get his other client Shaun Williamson (EastEnders’ Barry) the role of the main character. “I think the obvious choice is right under your nose – Barry.” Sitting beside Darren, Shaun perks up from licking envelopes.
• Andy being driven mad by his "too gay" producer at the BBC.
• Andy getting Patrick Stewart to apologise on his behalf to Maggie over the phone after her well-meaning meddling almost costs him the sitcom. “Look at his fat expressionless face,” Stewart intones, but is cut short when he tries to offer Maggie a role in his new
film for which he’s written the screenplay that Andy is only too familiar with.
• Egged on by Darren, Shaun Williamson’s impromptu, and unwanted, audition for the lead role in Andy’s sitcom. Darren: “Do your serious.” Shaun, tearfully: “You love me Janine, you do.” “Do your comical.” “Pat! You’ve trod on me foot! Get off!” “He’s a singer as well.” At which point Shaun launches into an overwrought cabaret number.

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