Extras (2005-2007) is a sitcom created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, starring Gervais, Merchant, and Ashley Jensen. Like all Gervais’ shows, he quits while he’s ahead, just two seasons and a Christmas special, totaling thirteen episodes. It comes in a nice boxed set on DVD (region 1/NTSC). You can rent it on Netflix discs and Facets Movies. Streaming, it’s available on Vudu and Amazon Video. You can also get the TV scripts in book form (Buy from Powells).
Andy Millman (Gervais) is an actor. Okay, he’s an extra, but he aspires to be an actor. Hell, Andy aspires just to get his face in the frame. He shares his dreams of fame with his best friend Maggie (Jensen), also an extra, and his agent Darren Lamb (played by co-creator Stephen Merchant), no doubt a satire on the sorts of show biz industry people Gervais and Merchant dealt with in their late-start stardom. Being an extra is hard, even if you do rub shoulders with celebrities, from the A-list to the Z-list–from Ian McKellen to Barry from EastEnders. But things are changing for Andy. He rapidly rises from extra to speaking part to household name. At his peak, he ignores Maggie and fires Darren, but it doesn’t take long before he is dissatisfied with being known for nothing more than a catch phrase (“Are you ‘avin’ a laugh?”). Reality bleeds into this fictional sitcom here as we are introduced to Les Dennis, whose long career is over shadowed by his Family Fortune catch phrases. Before Extras, Dennis was on Celebrity Big Brother, and his amplified Extras persona moans the downfall of his career. Andy Millman comes full circle while himself on set of a Celebrity Big Brother and is determined not to become the next Les Dennis.
In addition to the writing of the Gervais/Merchant team, the real draw of the show is the supporting roles–all celebrities playing themselves: Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Stewart, Daniel Radcliffe, Ben Stiller, Kate Winslet, Clive Owen, Warwick Davis, Robert De Niro, Chris Martin, George Michael, Orlando Bloom, Gordon Ramsay, David Tennant,
Stephen Fry…I mean, it’s ridiculous how many uber-famous faces pop up. The best use of a celebrity in Extras is that of David Bowie because a younger Gervais strove to be Bowie (don’t believe me, watch the old Seona Dancing music videos), so the idea that Gervais has written him a part melodically destroying him (or at least his character) has a certain magic to it. The lyrics also sum up the plot in an annoyingly catchy way: “He sold his soul for a shot at fame / catchphrase and wing on and the jokes are lame…”
This is the second TV show from Gervais and Merchant. It’s told in a straight sitcom or comedy/drama style, unlike the mockumentary style of The Office. It may be the best thing the pair have ever created.