Thursday, 14 September 2006

Review: Extras Series Two, Episode One

by Charles Pooter

Ricky Gervais as Andy Millman as Ray Stokes.

The first episode of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's second series was funnier than any of the episodes in Extras season one, which in itself was better than 90% of British TV. It was also better than any episode of Steve Coogan's recent sitcom Saxondale, which I also really liked.

In tonight's episode we saw Gervais' character, Andy Millman, rehearsing the first episode of his newly-commissioned BBC sitcom When the Whistle Blows. We've seen a chatshow within a sitcom, both with The Larry Sanders Show and Coogan's Knowing Me, Knowing You. Now we have a new device: the sitcom within a sitcom. This is Gervais showing what could have happened with his career. Instead of Millman's vision of a sitcom worthy of Fawlty Towers, the BBC executives and the camp co-writer they have foisted on him have turned it into Oh Doctor Beaching. We soon learn that it's even worse than that, as Paul Shane found it "too broad" and has been replaced by Keith Chegwin. Thank God this never happened with The Office.

Millman works through a frustrating experience, attempting to direct Cheggers in a scene where Chegwin's character gives news of his dead sister to his work colleagues. Cheggers is unable to do this without grinning, looking at the camera or wandering out of shot. After the BBC Director of Comedy insists that Millman's character wears a "comedy" wig and glasses, Millman finally cracks and insists that his artistic vision remain intact. But after being threatened with going back to being an obscure extra and with Barry from EastEnders ready to take on his rĂ´le, Millman sweeps his integrity to one side, dons the wig and glasses and milks his new catchphrase for all it is worth ("Is he havin' a laff? Are you havin' a laff?") , much to the delight of the When the Whistle Blows' studio audience, many of whom are wearing T-Shirts with other recent, "hilarious" comedy catchphrases ("Am I bovvered", "Garlic Bread?").

Along the way, we learn of Cheggers' bigotry ("Is this place still run by Jews and queers?") and there's quite a funny sub-plot involving Ashley Jenson's character and an egotistical Orlando Bloom ("Who wouldn't find this face attractive?"). Stephen Merchant is still brilliant as Millman's unnamed agent and Shaun Williamson (Barry) is a star.

As Andy Millman walks off the set of the first episode of his sitcom, he realises he has sold out and he holds his head in his hands. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant won't be doing that after tonight's outing. If this season of Extras maintains the quality of episode one, it will be better than The Office and up there with the BBC's other great comedy series.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

His agent is called Darren Lamb.

Charles Pooter said...

Quite right. Thanks.