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HBO's "Extras" is Extra Funny, Even If Nobody's Watching

I always get depressed when there's a series that I love watching that no one seems to talk about (or, hell, watch at all).

In this case, I'm talking about the second season of Ricky Gervais' follow-up to The Office, the mordantly hilarious comedy Extras, which recently launched on HBO.

Quick recap time: Gervais plays Andy Millman, a hapless extra, er, background artist who has been slaving away in obscurity for years and years with little hope of escaping a mindless life of drudgery and anonymity. (Hmmm, sounds like David Brent.) He's got a useless, boorish agent (played to great comic effect by co-creator Stephen Merchant, reunited here with his Office mate), no love life to speak of, and constant companion in his friend, the cute but clueless Maggie (played by Ashley Jensen, who has cleaned up and gone all glam as Christina on Ugly Betty.)

The second season has brought Andy a modicum of success in the form of a BBC workplace sitcom called When the Whistle Blows. Poor Andy envisioned a realistic look at the ennui and monotony of a group of factory workers (rather like, well, The Office) but thanks to massive interference from the hapless BBC execs controlling the purse strings he's wound up with a truly awful sitcom that would have felt dated 30 years ago. And to make matters worse, he's forced to destroy the character he created (based on a real-life person he knew) by wearing a terrible wig and over-sized glasses and uttering a mirthless catchphrase ("Is he having a laugh?") that losers in the pub ask him to repeat endlessly.

Somehow 6 million people tune in to the initial broadcast (a miracle which underlies the fact that the majority of the viewing public will watch anything, even Skating with Celebrities or When the Whistle Blows), but Andy's still getting heckled despite the ratings. Hell, he even manages, in last week's episode, to bore David Bowie to the point where he crafts a song about Andy called "Fatty Takes His Own Life." (Yes, it's just that depressing.)

Andy and Maggie are fantastic protagonists and one can't help but feel the genuine, well, pathetic connection between them. (And, no, before you ask, there's no hint whatsoever of any sexual tension between them.) While we all know what a comic genius Gervais is, Ashley Jensen is the true find here. In Jensen's hands, Maggie manages simultaneously to be frumpy and sexy, insightful and idiotic. She's the one constant in Andy's life, the Fool to his Lear, and she's always willing (perhaps too readily so) to reveal the truths that Andy dare not acknowledge.

I can't think of a better comedic pairing than these two. David Bowie might want Andy to end his miserable life, but as for me, I can't wait to see what tragicomedy Ricky Gervais cooks up for Andy and Maggie next.

"Extras" airs Sunday evenings at 7 pm ET/PT on HBO.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Ghost Whisperer (CBS); 1 vs. 100 (NBC); WWE Friday Night SmackDown (CW; 8-10 pm); Grey's Anatomy (ABC); Nanny 911 (FOX); Wicked Wicked Games (MyNet)

9 pm: Close to Home (CBS); Las Vegas (NBC); Brothers & Sisters (ABC); Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy (FOX); Watch Over Me (MyNet)

10 pm: NUMB3RS (CBS); Law & Order (NBC); 20/20 (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8 pm: Hardware on BBC America (11 pm ET).

It's the second season of Britcom Hardware, starring Martin Freeman of the original UK version of The Office, taking place at a small (you guessed it!) hardware store. On tonight's episode ("Nude"), Rex decides that one of his employees has to go after he realizes the shop is losing money, while Anne is approached by an artist looking for nude models.

8:30 pm: Spaced on BBC America (11:30 pm ET).

It's the second season of one of the wackiest Britcoms ever devised. On tonight's episode ("Mettle"), Tim and Mike make it to the finals of Robot Wars but their efforts are in vain as they are sabotaged by rivals; meanwhile, Brian is invited to do an art installation and Marsha joins him for some free booze.

10 pm: Hyperdrive on BBC America (9 pm ET)

On the second episode of this hilarious space station-set workplace comedy ("Hello, Queppu"), the HMS Camden Lock makes contact with an isolationist alien race but Teal destroys the flirtation brewing between Henderson and the alien princess when she imbibes too much of the local drink and lands them all in the clink.

10:40 pm: Feel the Force on BBC America (9:40 pm ET)

It's the US premiere of UK cop spoof Feel the Force. On tonight's episode, Frank and Bobbins get overlooked for a plum assignment, but Bobbins decides to stick her nose in anyway.


Anonymous said…
I just started watching Extras with the first two episodes of the second season, and I'm loving it so far. I was actually going to write a post about how awesome Ashley Jensen is as Maggie, in fact. You hit the nail pretty much on the head there! Although man, some of the scenes in the latest episode were so cringe-worthy that I had to watch through my fingers...pretty normal with Ricky Gervais, though.
Anonymous said…
I kept forgetting the season started, so I've been catching up. I just saw the Orlando Bloom episode - I was dying! The scene between orlando and Ashley J where he is trash-talking Johnny Depp was brilliant.
This comment has been removed by the author.
I'm a huge "Extras" fan and I think the David Bowie episode was one of the best ones yet.

Ricky Gervais is hilarious and, as you said, Ashley Jensen simply shines.

I'm really looking forward to the next episode with Daniel Radcliff!
Anonymous said…
I am obsessed with Ashley Jensen. I think she looks so cute on Extras... and really glam on Ugly Betty. And I'm glad that someone is talking about how great Extras is!
JB said…
I think EXTRAS is great also but I wonder if it's the name - when it comes up in the guide, you just think it's one of the "making of featurettes" they run. Of course with Comcast, I don't even bother to watch it live, I just look in ON DEMAND to see if the new ep is posted ...
Joshua Dudley said…
I can't get enough of extras. I've been telling everyone about it. Every smirk, glare, wince is so funny. This show is like a mad genius at work.
Joshua Dudley said…
Has anyone else commented on how great extras is? Come on, this guy wrote a whole article and you guys can't comment more than once! Be a devoted fan and comment again and again ad nauseum.

Extras Rules!
Anonymous said…
i've just watched the extras christmas special (its the last ever extras) in england. i think its absolute genius. ashley jensen is amazing as maggie - shes so pretty and cute, and you genuininely feel for her so much in the special. anyone who hasnt seen this yet must. now. its pure brilliance.

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