Extra Series One, BBC2

by | Aug 25, 2005 | All, Reviews

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 f**king 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 f**king 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.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles

25/08/2005

Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!

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