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 w**ker’. 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.