Thursday, March 22, 2012

If One Must Have Extras, THIS Is The Boxed Set To Buy!

The Good: All of Extras in one place
The Bad: VERY repetitive
The Basics: The best possible way to get all of Extras in one place, this gift set still fails to close the deal on a remarkably mediocre series.

There are multipacks and there are multipacks. For the television series Extras, there is a very simple multipack which is the first two seasons cellophaned together. Then there is the Extras Giftset, which is what this listing is for. The difference? The Giftset includes The Extra Special Series Finale and new packaging which takes up less space than the other three separate sets, when placed sideways on a shelf (i.e. with the spine showing).

The thing is, Extras is funny, for about one pass. But its humor episode to episode is so similar that watching the entire series like this (which takes well less than a day) that is soon wears thin. And by the time one gets to the "series finale" (note: Gevais is already talking about trying another episode/movie for Extras if he can get Al Pacino on board!) the humor is so "done" that it's hard to muster up the interest in watching the whole thing a second or third time. In other words, it's hard to recommend for one's permanent collection, but this boxed set has the virtue of being the entire series (as it currently stands) which lends some extra value to it.

As far as content goes, this repackage has the same discs that comprised: Extras Season 1, Extras Season 2 and Extras: The Extra Special Series Finale. There are no additional bonus features or discs in this package, though it does seem to be less expensive than buying the three previously released sets separately.

Extras - The Complete First Season is a pretty solid afternoon of entertainment. Sadly, that first DVD boxed set is comprised of only six episodes and as a result, it is easy to go through it very fast. The series focuses on Andy Millman and his friend Maggie, who work as extras on various films. While working in the background, they struggle for lines so they can move up and potentially become stars some day.

Andy is ambitious and is represented by a lazy agent who never seems to look into getting him work. Still, Andy treats Darren well, even paying him for work he does not do. As Andy is ambitious and trying to get his own series made, Maggie is dimwitted and stumbles into situations where her ignorance or outright stupidity land her further from getting decent work. Often enough, Maggie finds herself in an uncomfortable situation and Andy does what he can to try to extricate her from it, usually making things worse for himself.

Each episode is defined by the famous guest star who shows up and interacts with Andy and/or Maggie on the set of the shoot they are working on. The first season is comprised of the episodes:

"Kate Winslet" - Wherein Andy finds himself in a position where he is attracted to a woman playing a nun, whose sister has cerebral palsy. A devout atheist, Andy listens to the sister talk about god's majesty and finds himself lying about his faith to impress the woman he is interested in, resulting in a terrible date . . . at a church reception! Kate Winslet tries to teach Maggie how to perform phone sex,

"Ben Stiller" - Wherein Andy uses a survivor of genocidal acts to try to get a line in a movie that Ben Stiller is directing,

"Ross Kemp" - Andy sits down next to actor Ross Kemp, who brags about how buff he is, which leads to a rivalry between the stars of two sets when Andy mentions it to his professional rival on a nearby set,

"Les Dennis" - Andy gets work in a play as a genie who makes gay jokes, working alongside the morbid and self-destructive comedian Les Dennis. While Andy tries to keep the star of the play from a complete emotional breakdown, Maggie befriends the daughter of the director to Andy's show. The director, who is almost a parody of gay, has an unusually close and professionally demanding relationship with his daughter and Maggie puts her foot in it by mentioning this to her,

"Samuel L. Jackson" - Maggie has the hots for a black actor working on the project she and Andy are currently on, but he walks in on her consistently making remarks that make her sound like she is a racist. Even as she tries to win a proper date with him, it becomes clear that his skin color is an issue, though not through any sense of racial hatred (just ignorance) on her part. While Maggie tries to get closer to the actor, Andy tries to extricate himself from a clingy police officer who wants him to spend time with him off set,

"Patrick Stewart" - Tired of Darren's lack of ambition on his part, Andy takes a script he has written and presents it to Patrick Stewart, the star of his current project. Darren and Andy are astonished when this actually works and Andy's series is put into active development at the BBC. Unfortunately for Andy, he is paired with a script doctor who is gay in the campiest possible ways and he mentions this to Maggie, who tries to get the BBC-mandated writer to tone it down.

The series is a series of real extremes. In "Samuel L. Jackson," the climactic scene is hilarious for the uncomfortable way Maggie and Andy try to convince Jackson and his costar that Maggie is not a racist (seriously, I'm chuckling thinking about it and writing those lines). It is laugh out loud funny. And as a HUGE fan of the Star Trek franchise and geek culture, it's delightful to watch Patrick Stewart sit in baffled silence when he realizes there is an unmarried, single male who does NOT watch Star Trek! Seriously, hilarious beyond belief.

But for the life of me, I don't think I laughed during any of "Ross Kemp." It just was a whole miss of an episode. And the Ben Stiller schtick, where he is the most arrogant jerk in the world works well in the beginning of that episode, but goes to an obvious hyperbole by the end.

The second season of Extras is exactly the same for Maggie, but it's completely different for Andy. Andy is now working on his own show, "When The Whistle Blows." Unfortunately for him, it has been co-opted by the BBC producers and made into a lame, catch-phrase-driven sitcom that he loathes to be associated with. And while the reviews of it are terrible, the ratings are phenomenal and Andy finds himself still trundling along unpleasantly.

Because this season is only six episodes and there is no real character development, it is most germane to see what happens in this season. In season two, the episodes are:

"Orlando Bloom" - While rehearsing for the premiere of "When The Whistle Blows," Andy takes a stand against the direction it is headed in, including rejecting the wig and funny glasses the producers insist he wear. He is extorted into continuing the production, though it is very much not what he wants to do. Meanwhile, Maggie works as a juror on a movie with Orlando Bloom only to discover he has a superiority complex and he wants to date her. Her indifference only turns him on more,

"David Bowie" - With the success of "When The Whistle Blows," Andy has his first run-in with geekish fans who essentially demand he perform his catch phrase for them. Trying to avoid fans like that, Andy, Maggie and Andy's agent Darren head out to an exclusive club where they are bumped from the V.I.P. room to let David Bowie in,

"Daniel Radcliffe" - As "When The Whistle Blows" continues to shine in the ratings, the critics pan the pathetic comedy and Andy more or less agrees with them. However, while out at a fancy dinner one night, he objects to a child making noise and asks the waitress to suggest they leave, only to discover that the child has Down's Syndrome. While Andy works to reconcile his public image, Maggie finds herself on set with Daniel Radcliffe and Warwick Davis on a shoot that has Radcliffe desperate to get it on with Maggie,

"Chris Martin" - Against his express wishes, the producers to "When The Whistle Blows" allow the lead singer of Coldplay to come on the show to play a song to promote his album "The Best Of Coldplay." After the critics take Andy to task for this, he is nominated for a BAFTA only to have Darren crash the ceremony with merchandise and Maggie tell an old flame of Andy's how late in life he lost his virginity,

"Sir Ian McKellen" - Eager to escape the bad press of "When The Whistle Blows," Andy has Darren line him up a play to perform in. As it is, he ends up working in a play directed by Sir Ian McKellen, but Andy finds himself remarkably uncomfortable with the play's homosexual themes, especially once an old rival shows up to see him perform,

"?????" - Frustrated at his performance and the direction of "When The Whistle Blows," Andy prepares to fire Darren. Darren makes a desperate deal, which is to arrange a meeting between Andy and Robert De Niro. While Andy and Maggie are caught up with visiting a sick child in the hospital, Darren struggles to keep his job as Andy's agent.

Extras is fairly funny in its second season, though much the way it was in the first. Andy is roped into various situations because he does not have the heart or spine to stand up for himself. Similarly, the average joke pertaining to Maggie has to do with her being an absolute dimwit. As a result, she will usually say something she shouldn't, the person she is speaking with will react in a shocked manner, she will realize she has said something wrong and she simply responds with a blank stare and a "hmm?"

This is amusing the first time around, but I have serious doubts about how it holds up over multiple viewings. Indeed, it is often not the main cast who is given the chance to be the funniest. So, for example, in this two-disc boxed set, the funniest bits come from Sir Ian McKellen. When Andy arrives at his audition, McKellen takes several moments to describe to him what acting is and it is utterly hilarious.

But largely, the series goes nowhere in the second season. It begins with Andy deeply distressed over the lousy quality of "When The Whistle Blows" and it ends with him in the exact same predicament. Maggie and Darren, similarly, do not grow or change (though they do have a date).

In Extras: The Extra Special Series Finale, we find Andy Millman axing his own show. Six months before he ends up on "Celebrity Survivor" in the UK, Andy Millman is stumbling his way through his catch phrase-packed series "When The Whistle Blows." When the producers insist on doing a Christmas episode, shortly after Andy is approached by an ambitious agent who sees his potential, he abruptly ends the series. Free after three seasons of the show, Andy is ecstatic and eager to compete with his old rival, Greg, who is now getting legitimate films opposite Clive Owens.

Soon, though, Andy discovers that the steady gig paid the bills and that the work that seemed beneath him before - like appearing on "Doctor Who" - might not be so bad. Frustrated, Andy lashes out at everyone left in his life. This includes Maggie, who has begun emulating his sense of having standards to the point of walking off a set when Owens wanted to throw dung at her as part of her role as a medieval prostitute. As a result, Maggie ends up scrubbing toilets and living in a tiny apartment, estranged from even her critical best friend.

Extras: The Extra Special Series Finale is packed with all of the standard Extras jokes. There is a guest star on the set of a production - in this case Clive Owens - who acts like a pompous asst. Andy gets frustrated with Darren, his agent, who does nothing for him or his career. Andy tries to have Maggie lie for him - in this case to an interviewer, who he wants to impress with a bogus call from Ridley Scott and asks Maggie to pretend to be his personal assistant - and this ends up terribly backfiring on him. In other words, this is all of the same humor the viewer has already seen in virtually every episode of Extras. We get it, what else have you got?!

At least as troubling, there is a disconnect between the last episodes of Extras and The Extra Special Series Finale. Andy challenged Darren to get Robert di Nero for a sit down or else he would fire his useless agent. What happened, then, between the last scenes of the series and the opening of this little film is up in the air in a way that is simply sloppy storytelling. I'm not saying that the viewer needed to see the exact results of that meeting, but how Andy continued to do his crappy television series that he hated after having made such a challenge, makes the fans who are most likely to enjoy this film wonder.

This is essentially A Christmas Carol recast for Extras, but it makes a bit less sense than that. For example, Andy's character has never been particularly impulsive. So why he fires Darren before confirming that the new agent can get him work of the caliber he is looking for is somewhat mystifying. But the net result of the set-up of the plot is that the viewer has a strong idea of where the movie is going from the first few minutes and as a result, we wait for it to end more than enjoy the attempt at resolution. No, not even that; we're bored by the direction the resolution is likely to take long before it gets there.

My only experience with star Ricky Gervais prior to watching him on this series was with his guest starring role in the third season of Alias. There he played a terrorist and the role was dark and disturbing, so his sense of comic timing went utterly unused. He seems to be a good actor in that he plays Andy as a very simple, direct guy who is not funny - though Gervais clearly has that talent down. Indeed, Gervais's Andy Millman might well be the best example of a character who is not at all funny, but is funny to watch.

Similarly, one must assume that Ashley Jensen, who plays Maggie, is a great actress. If Jensen were as dimwitted as Maggie is portrayed as the episodes would never get done because she would never be able to get through the lines they give her. Even with cue cards.

On DVD, the sets feature deleted scenes for each episode as well as a featurette on the making of the show. As well, there is a small collection of outtakes on a gag reel. This is not a great set for those who are looking for great DVD bonus features.

Ultimately, I took the final "recommend" question literally and because I have not been recommending Extras to friends, I opted not to recommend it here. The truth is, it's too repetitive to endure. But for those who must have this series, you might as well get the whole thing and cheaper.

For other works on HBO, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
True Blood - Season Four
Six Feet Under
Da Ali G Show


For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for a comprehensive listing of all the television reviews I have written.

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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