Wednesday, July 25, 2012

In Its Second Season, Extras Dazzled Before It Disappears!

The Good: Funny, Clever, Decent commentary
The Bad: No real character development, Light on DVD bonus features
The Basics: A fun season, more big stars arrive on Extras, which makes its point early and never grows beyond it.

I suppose one of the nice things about watching and reviewing HBO and BBC DVD boxed sets is that they are short. With the crossover between those two giants of original programming, there was the show Extras. A few weeks ago, I took in Extras Season 1 (reviewed here!) and liked it enough to pick up Extras - Season 2 on DVD.

The series takes an interesting turn and it is a strange balancing between being stagnant characters (much like they were in the first season) and an almost entirely different show in terms of plot. The first season of Extras followed Andy and Maggie, two non-speaking background actors in various BBC productions. Each episode had a basic quandary (like Andy trying to get lines by having a victim of war crimes push for them or Maggie trying to date a black man without appearing racist) which put the two extras on set near some famous actors and ultimately they just trundled through their lives.

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).

The acting by Ricky Gervais and Ashley Jensen is consistent and believable. Both have amazing comic timing with Gervais able to deadpan brilliantly and Jensen takes on a completely simple demeanor that makes her character hilarious to watch.

On DVD, there are deleted scenes for each episode and a few featurettes. These are about what one would expect from a comedy and the behind-the-scenes elements are interesting. Particularly annoying is the menu on the second disc which has the opening jingle to "When The Whistle Blows" repeated over and over again.

This is a good way to kill an afternoon and it is enjoyable, but it is hard to believe it is essential for anyone's permanent collection.

For other works with Stephen Merchant, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Hall Pass
The Tooth Fairy
The Invention Of Lying
Run, Fatboy, Run


For other television reviews, be sure to check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing.

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