I don’t know how many of you are inveterate HBO watchers, but I count myself among those legions of the damned who every Sunday night find themselves leaving the pub early to get home to gaze at the infernal tele. Of course the contempt I have just registered for HBO is merely a sign of my anti-trend trendiness, my hipster-poseur façade, and I in fact deeply love HBO and, in a Homer Simpson-esque fashion, all television, as its radiant glow has bathed my cerebral cortex with distraction since I was just a lad.
Confessions aside, I must confess that I find Ricky Gervais’s new show Extras to be a massive disappointment. Compared with The Office, which many of you may only know via the disgusting American interpretation, Extras is a heap of steaming manure. Trying to move from his unselfconscious, unintentionally-the-brunt-of-every-joke David Brent character into a self-aware-but-pathetic-loser background actor was a terrible decision. Strangely enough, as Gervais still writes what I assume is the bulk of the dialogue, one has the experience of watching the now straight man Gervais encounter version after version of David Brent in Extras, and for fans of The Office the effect is completely dissatisfying. Also gone from the earlier show was the brilliant “mock-umentary” format, which gave Gervais’s Brent character constant opportunity for absurd “commentary” on what was happening. While the same style of humor certainly pervades Extras, which incorporates a “fake” film at the beginning of each episode, these films seem more vehicles to bring mainstream celebrities onto the show (none of them have been funny, most just play versions of Brent or cohort Gareth) than an actually interesting parody of Hollywood trends. A far more successful, if derivative, show was the recently canceled Lisa Kudrow project The Comeback. That show’s use of the mock-umentary form mirrored The Office while also mocking the world of show business supposedly from within. It had the interesting effect of simultaneously lowering Kudrow’s celebrity (Friends lasted 10 years, The Comeback only 1) while proving that she, like and unlike Ricky Gervais, is actually an intelligent and deft parodist and not the one-trick-pony “Phoebe” (Gervais's one trick (Brent) being an intelligent and deft parody). For Kudrow, The Comeback, a show about a fake TV comeback, was in reality a failed comeback for a celebrity who never really left. Extras is in the same vein, but where Kudrow was Brent-like in her total self-absorption, Gervais seems consciously un-Brent-like, much to the detriment of the humor. Where The Office was unbelievably dense, Extras seems full of un-funny fluff. The absence of a true ensemble is also greatly to the show’s detriment.
So, to sum up, Ricky Gervais is a brilliant comedian who, like many others, will probably be forgotten because of his efforts not to get type cast for the rest of his life. Gervais is much like his Extras character, Andy, in his attempt here to be taken seriously, and ironically like Andy his efforts, at least with this show, seem predestined to fail.