Friday, March 23, 2007

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Extras Series 2 DVD

Product Number: 116
How much: £21.99 RRP
Where can I buy one:

Those who know me may find it a little odd for me to be reviewing the latest from Ricky Gervais given that I didn’t ‘get’ The Office till at least the third time I watched it. I also watched about the first five minutes of the first series of Extras, found Ben Stiller to seem a little bit mad and then turned it off completely. In essence this makes me the perfect choice to cover the new series of Extras, and as one of the few remaining journalists yet to be ensnarled by the Ricky Gervais TV love in I should hopefully be able to shine an unbiased light on his latest offering.

I’ll start with the good news: Extra’s Series 2 is unashamedly brilliant. Despite my reservations I found it to be filled with fantastically cringe worthy moments that felt unique and fresh. Much of the laughs this year come from Gervais’ character ‘Andy’ enjoying the ‘success’ of his new TV show: When the Whistle Blows. Unfortunately for him the BBC cripple his new show by filling it full of catchphrases and ultimately Andy starts on a downward spiral which brings you one laugh after another at his expense. To spell these laughs out here would utterly ruin it so instead I’ll keep it zipped and save the gags for you.

Alongside Ricky Gervais, the fantastic Steven Merchant returns as Andy’s bumbling agent complete with “Barry from Eastenders” as his only other client. In many ways when Gervais and Merchant are together in a scene events play out exactly as they would in a typical one of their Podcasts, and even without Karl Pilkington for them to humiliate the gags come thick and fast.

In some ways I found that the Merchant/ Gervais moments on the DVD only served to highlight the ease with which Gervais must have found playing the part of Andy. Whilst David Brent was a thoroughly unique character, Andy feels almost as if Gervais is simply playing himself – for example an interview with Jonathan Ross in Episode 6 plays out exactly as it would had Gervais himself been doing it and he even slips his trademark laugh in to the scene. It’s an uncomfortable scene for those who have seen Gervais appear on Jonathan Ross as himself so don’t be surprised if you forget that you’re supposed to be watching a ‘fictional character’ at that point.

Some of course would argue that the stars of the show are not in fact the roles played by the ensemble cast but instead those played by the various actors who pop up from time to time to mostly just harass the main characters. Whilst the mixture of characters is fantastic, it’s the bizarre situations that they’re put in which will really gets the laughs. Sometimes it works (in the case of Chris Martin it works especially well) and other times it earns a little bit less respect for the actor in question. Orlando Bloom especially comes across as pompous and self-loving and although the actors are clearly playing satirical versions of themselves you can’t help but leave with a bad after taste.

Then there’s the repetition and although there are only six episodes on the DVD, plotlines seem to be repeated frequently. Orland Bloom for example plays an ego focused character obsessed with trying to convince Maggie to find him attractive, and then two episode later Daniel Radcliffe plays an ego focused character obsessed with trying to convince Maggie to find him attractive. Then there’s Ian McKellen and Keith Chegwin, who both play characters that have a totally baffling understanding of acting. For a show that seems so keen to poke fun at catchphrase comedies, it’s ironic to see the writers falling back on such repetition when they’re unsure of an interesting role for a cameo actor to play.

Aside from all of these issues Extras Series 2 does come away feeling stronger than the sum of its individual parts. Clearly there are areas where it could have been stronger but for the most part it’s a laugh happy comedy which has probably one of the most unique set ups in the last ten years. As Andy’s characters in ‘When the Whistle Blows’ would say: “Are you ‘avin a laugh?”. Yes I am, but it could be louder…

Extras:: In terms of Extras’ Extras (you don’t get to say that every day) there’s backstage clips for every episode and 8 minutes of out takes to give you more from your favourite episodes. There’s also two fantastic documentaries that round off a package which is especially generous for a BBC comedy (second only to Red Dwarf DVDs). The first of these focuses on Corpsing which is the flawed art of laughing in the middle of a scene. In essence this feature plays out like another big collection of out takes, only with surprisingly good insights from the actors in to why they can’t stop laughing on screen.

Then there’s “Taping Nigel II: The Gimpening” which may possibly be the funniest special feature of all time. Anyone that has seen the behind the screens antics of Ricky Gervais’ live tours will know the cruel pranks he plays on some of his team and Nigel is probably the most bullied of all. Throughout a 25 minute long documentary Gervais uses masking tape and paper to reconstruct Nigel in to beavers and slugs, as well as urging Nigel in to a series of bizarre bets. Although in many ways it’s petty bullying, it’s hilarious petty bullying….

Extras Series 2 is available to buy from Monday 26th March 2007.

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