Extras. Image shows from L to R: Maggie Jacobs (Ashley Jensen), Andy Millman (Ricky Gervais), Darren Lamb (Stephen Merchant).

Extras

BBC Two sitcom by Ricky Gervais. 13 episodes (2 series), 2005 - 2007. Stars Ricky Gervais, Ashley Jensen, Stephen Merchant and Shaun Williamson.

Extras. Copyright: BBC.

Extras

Andy Millman was born to be a star. Unfortunately no-one else seems to have noticed. Even his agent isn't convinced. After ignoring the old cliché 'don't give up the day job', Andy (played by Ricky Gervais) does just that and pursues his dream to become an actor (well, at least he doesn't have to pay the rent).

Andy seems confined to a life of being a 'supporting actor', chasing after that one line in the script like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Trouble is, all his scenes are cut before 'the fat bloke' gets his face in. And on the occasions he bags himself a line or two (not of the white powder variety), either he or fellow extra Maggie (Ashley Jensen) manage to re-affirm his position in the background again.

Andy finally hits gold when his sitcom is accepted by the BBC, but interference from 'the powers that be' means he has to adopt a silly catchphrase and a fetching curly wig. Consequently, Andy has everyone in stitches - but not for the right reasons, leaving him wealthy but disillusioned. David Bowie even writes a song based on his sad life... and Barry off EastEnders attempts to harmonise!

Maggie is Andy's sole friend who, as luck would have it, gets work on all the same sets as Andy. Adorable but dim-witted Maggie has no illusions of grandeur and also works as a barmaid to support herself, despite never seeming to spend any time at the pub in question. With little awareness of PC issues, current affairs or even her own existence, Maggie is frequently putting her humongous size 12's in it. Advice from Andy only makes matters worse and sets the scene for some cringe worthy moments from both. Particularly where romantic Maggie's search for a husband is concerned.

Andy's only other regular contact is his useless agent Darren Lamb (played by co-writer and co-director Stephen Merchant) whose 12.5% commission is most generous, considering he never gets Andy any work. Blaming Andy's shape for the lack of offers, Darren spends his time plugging Shaun Williamson's talent. Except he thinks Shaun's real name is 'Barry off EastEnders'. Which doesn't say much for his business skills, really.

Most episodes of Extras begin with a dramatic scene involving the guest star from the production Andy and Maggie are supporting actors in, and then cut to the title page. Closing credits are accompanied by Tea for the Tillerman by Cat Stevens, although this is sung by Coldplay's Chris Martin in Episode 4 of the second series.

Extras was the second sitcom written, directed and starring Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. Due to the huge success of their first sitcom The Office, it is difficult not to compare the two. It may even be possible to spot tiny elements of manager David Brent's character in our very own Andy Millman.

Extras came up against criticism when it was launched, largely due to the success of The Office, which was unique in its form as it was filmed like a documentary. In reality, they are completely different styles (Extras was filmed as a traditional sitcom) and the only thing which connects them is the writers. It would be feasible to say that most comedies would fail to live up to the cult status and genius of The Office anyway.

Extras is a sitcom success in its own right despite the critics and unfair comparisons. There are plenty of un-PC laughs to be had; as Maggie hides a golliwog from her black date, Andy mistakes someone with cerebral palsy for an alcoholic; and nearly jeopardises his BBC project by moaning about his 'too gay' co-writer. Religion doesn't escape Andy's list of taboo topics to handle gently as he lies to a priest (look out for the deleted scenes on the Series 1 DVD, in which he sings a Boney M 'hymn' to the prayer group. Classic.)

Possibly the only thing which spoils Extras is the guest appearance in every episode, which is said to have been added for realism. Although not all A-list celebrities, it could suggest a debatable weakness in Extras to survive on its own without a famous face each week to compel viewers. Alternatively, the fact that so many successful actors have been a part of Extras could just re-iterate the well-deserved recognition of Gervais and Merchant's comic genius, leading to their meteoric rise to fame. The most refreshing factor, however, is that all the guest appearances don't actually play their own character, but a satirical version of themselves. At least that's their contention... otherwise that's the last time I'll watch something starring Ben Stiller!

Published: Sunday 30th December 2007