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Make Believe and Mortifying Embarassment on HBO's "Extras"

Seriously, last night's episode of Extras may have been the most painfully funny episode of television since the original run of Ricky Gervais' The Office... with an emphasis on the painful part of that equation.

So, what new embarrassments did last night's episode, the fifth in the second season, bring us? There was the impromptu appearance of a former classmate of Andy's (played by guest star Jonathan Cake) who was blessed with the uncanny ability to chat up any woman effortlessly, leading Andy to try to steal his routine, involving the casual tossing and opening of a water bottle. Which would have been fine except for the fact that the bottle Andy grabbed was sparking water. The damned thing explodes in his hands and he stupidly, inanely, shoves the thing in his mouth. Yep, Andy, I am sure that woman will never forget you.

Meanwhile, Andy's hit BBC1 sitcom When the Whistle Blows continues its assault on the intelligence of Britons and he's taken to task by several critics for the inherent misogyny of the show but more for the fact that the series, even with its wigs, funny glasses, and catchphrases, is horrifically written. (This following on the heels of last week's cringe-worthy moment when Andy, Darren and Maggie accidentally break up a eulogy delivered by actor Richard Briers--Monarch of the Glen's much missed Hector--at the BAFTA awards, thanks to a talking Ray doll that won't stop uttering that ridiculous catchphrase, "Are you having a laugh?")

Sir Ian McKellen shows up to skewer himself this week and the knight of the realm is a great sport about it, chatting to Andy about how it is that he's such a great actor. Hint: it involves "pretending" to be the character and the dialogue comes from the script he's given. McKellan ends up casting Andy as one of the leads in a new play he's directing (Andy's trying to gain back some credibility in the acting world) but Andy's cast as one half of a gay couple. Leading to all sorts of uneasiness on Andy's part, especially when his old school chums show up on opening night and Andy decides he's not going to do the kiss that McKellen sprung on him five minutes before curtain. The result is truly train wreck television as Andy breaks character, warns his costar that he will pop him one if he tries to kiss him, and attempts to leave the stage... all in front of a live audience.

But the piece de resistance, as it were, is the completely awkward date between Ashley Jensen's Maggie and Stephen Merchant's Darren. After using Andy's classmate's trick of asking a girl out, he successfully scores a date with Maggie and invites her over to his apartment for dinner. But somehow these two dopes manage to hit it off with one another; Darren makes a delicious meal, the food is great, the conversation better, and the wine keeps flowing. That is, until the water in the lavatory stops flowing. Darren's next move is so painful to watch, so hilariously awkward, that it becomes the pinnacle of embarrassment in a series that filled with them. I can't do the scene justice in words but it needs, nay demands, to be seen. All I will say is that the sight of Maggie slinking off after Darren has produced a whisk and a plastic bag will forever remain with me.

It truly affirms the fact that writers Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant have their fingers on the pulse of what makes the audience uncomfortable, squeamish, and sympathetic, sometimes all at the same time. Consider them virtuosos of painful hilarity.

There's only one episode of Extras left and it looks to be a corker of an episode. Gervais, meanwhile, seems cagey about the possibility of another season of Extras, but I'd urge him to reconsider his hesitation. After all, twelve episodes (nearly the same amount, not including the Christmas Specials, as The Office's run) is not enough time to spend with these lovable loons. Here's to hoping that Gervais and Merchant eventually come round and bring the audience what we want: more humiliation for Andy, Maggie, and Co. If nothing else, it reminds us that our own lives are at least not that embarrassing after all.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: How I Met Your Mother/The Class (CBS); Deal or No Deal (NBC); Everybody Hates Chris/All of Us (CW); Wife Swap (ABC); 24 (FOX; 8-10 pm); Wicked Wicked Games (MyNet)

9 pm: Two and a Half Men/Rules of Engagement (CBS); Heroes (NBC); Girlfriends/The Game (CW); Supernanny (ABC); Watch Over Me (MyNet)

10 pm: CSI: Miami (CBS); Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (NBC); What About Brian (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8 pm: Everybody Hates Chris.

On tonight's episode ("Everybody Hates the Substitute"), Chris is held accountable for a much higher standard than his classmates by a new substitute teacher (guest star Orlando Jones), while Tanya realizes she can get whatever she wants by accusing Drew of hitting her.

8-10 pm: 24.

It's Day Six of 24. While FOX doesn't give us much in the way of previews, President Palmer (D.B. Woodside) while VP Noah Daniels (Powers Boothe) and Reed Pollack (Chad Lowe) seem to be more deeply involved with either the aftermath or the attack itself. Meanwhile, Gredenko and Fayed position the next threat.


Jon88 said…
Andy's classmate's chat skills reminded me of a cartoon, headline: How to Pick Up Women. Two panels, each a picture of the same pub (cartoon was from Punch), same innkeeper, same woman being approached. The only difference between "the right way" and "the wrong way" is the guy. "Right way," he's tall, dark and handsome. "Wrong way," a schlub.

It's McKellen, by the way.
Bill said…
I agree completely. More Extras would be great, I feel like they've barely scratched the surface.
Rich said…
Okay so I caught this episode and DVR'd it so I could watch it a few times. Thank God I could watch it over and over again.

I swear that Gervais has bottled up the technique of making the audience squirm in unconfortableness (I don't even care if that's not a word.)

It's a formula that he has mastered and I can't get enough of it. It's so good that even when you pick up on the foreshadowing (like ANY TIME he confides some information in Maggie - I already KNOW she's going to give that info out at the worst possible moment and I can't wait for it to happen!)

Lastly, I only wish I could have been on set when they shot the cabonated-water-in-the-mouth scene. I watched it no less than four times and can only hope that they took 10-12 shots to get it right. It must have been hilarious to watch him shoot that!
Anonymous said…
I will never lick another whisk as long as I live. Absolutely brilliant.

I love Extras. It's not as universal as The Office but it's definitely as funny. And it keeps getting better. But where would Extras go after this train wreck (in a good way) of a season? Andy is doomed. Suicide seems inevitable. A Barry spinoff perhaps?
Anonymous said…
I just can't get into Extras... but maybe I'll try it again, if HBO does a marathon (which I am sure they will), based on your enthusiasm for it. I guess its not THE OFFICE for me, but I'll give it another shot.
It was painful enough when the fizzy water started to explode but when Andy stuck the bottle in his mouth I was in awe. Ricky Gervais is a comedic genius.

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