The follow-up for UK "Office" creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, "Extras" is an HBO sitcom starring Gervais as Andy Millman, a struggling actor getting up there in years who tries to find success as an actor, but remains stuck in bit and background parts (hence the title of the show.) Coming off such a hit like "The Office" is difficult, but Gervais and Merchant have pulled off another slyly funny show that takes the absurdity of a workplace and mines every last detail of painfully awkward, uncomfortable (in other words, real) humor out of it.
Alongside Andy is Maggie Jacobs (Ashley Jensen), another background actor who tends to get herself into trouble by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time (see the second episode, where she cluelessly stumbles as a wingwoman when Andy tries to pick up a woman who just moved in to his apartment complex.) As the second season begins, Andy has caught a break by having his script, " When the Whistle Blows", produced by the BBC. What seems like a dream come true at first quickly turns into a nightmare as the sitcom becomes a dumbed-down sitcom, complete with Andy in a bad wig and offering up a lame catchphrase. Soon enough, there's even a pointless guest star cameo (Coldplay's Chris Martin, very funny.)
Each episode of the series brings in a major guest star, but rather than focus on the star, Merchant and Gervais work them into the episode splendidly. Probably the best example of this is the first episode, where Orlando Bloom plays himself as a hilariously vain star with a grudge against Johnny Depp. The fact that Gervais and Merchant have been able to make Bloom geniunely funny is a miracle. In the next episode, Andy inspires David Bowie to write a hilariously demeaning song about him.
The show's situations - which almost always involve Andy and Maggie digging themselves into another fine mess - resemble Larry David's ability to say the wrong thing at the worst time in "Curb Your Enthusiasm." However, as brilliant as the best episodes of "Curb" are, I liked "Extras" a little more than some of the recent "Curb" episodes, because of the fact that Andy is a genuinely likable character who seems to find himself in the midst of another crisis after another, despite the fact that he often means well. The situations that Maggie and Andy find themselves in, such as a disaster at the BAFTA awards, also don't seem contrived.
Overall, "Extras" remained a pleasure to watch and it's really too bad that the series appears to be over, as the duo apparently wanted to bring things to a close (although a special is reportedly in the works) while things were still fresh. Still, "Extras" is a fantastic series with great performances and inspired situations that show the team behind "The Office" certainly did not encounter a "sophmore slump" with their second effort.
7 Episode 1: Orlando Bloom 9/14/2006
8 Episode 2: David Bowie 9/21/2006
9 Episode 3: Daniel Radcliffe 9/28/2006
10 Episode 4: Chris Martin 10/5/2006
11 Episode 5: Ian McKellen 10/12/2006
12 Episode 6: Jonathan Ross 10/19/2006
VIDEO: "Extras" is presented by HBO Home Entertainment in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Image quality is not outstanding, but matches broadcast quality nicely. Sharpness and detail are not stellar, but the picture remains consistently crisp. Some slight artifacting was spotted, but no edge enhancement or other concerns were seen. Colors appeared natural and accurate, with no smearing or other concerns. Flesh tones seemed spot-on throughout, as well.
SOUND: The show is presented with a clear, clean stereo soundtrack.
EXTRAS: "Extras: Backstage" is a 6-part featurette that offers a behind-the-scenes look at each of the 6 episodes. Gervais and Merchant are featured, as they chat about the process of getting the idea for the episode together, building up some specific scenes and working with that episode's special guest. As a whole, these were funny, breezy and informative - very enjoyable. "Taping Nigel" is a bizarre little featurette that shows the practical jokes Gervais plays on the editor of the show. "Art of Corpsing" is a lengthy set of outtakes and general screw-ups - mostly Gervais (who has an odd laugh.) An additional outtakes reel is also included.
Final Thoughts: "Extras" is a phenomenally funny show that had me cracking up frequently. Gervais, Merchant and others have crafted a very funny series with great bits and situations - it's just too bad that the show apparently has (aside from a potential future special) has come to a close. The DVD set offers fine audio/video quality, as well as some nice extras. Highly recommended.