DVD Review: Extras - Season Two
Release Date: July 10, 2007
Distributor: HBO Films
· Ricky Gervais
· Stephen Merchant
· Ricky Gervais
· Ashley Jenson
· Stephen Merchant
by Alex Keen
Published: July 9, 2007
During the first season of Extras, Andy Millman struggled as a background actor who could never seem to catch a professional break. Extras: Season Two takes this basic idea and changes directions just a bit. This season picks up as Andy is preparing his first starring role in "When the Whistle Blows" a sitcom he also wrote. Throughout this season Andy is on set shooting his new sitcom, dealing with the notoriety that goes with being on a national television show. He has gone from being a dumb wannabe to an up-and-coming TV star. His friend Maggie and his agent Darren are both back to add to themes.
Even though I dogged Extras: Season One in an earlier review, thanks to Season Two, Extras has become one of the funniest seasons for a television. Extras: Season One felt like a show built around the gag that each episode would include a famous cameo. The gag was successful if the actor understood the rationale for their cameo (e.g. Kate Winslet) and abysmal if the actor just didn't get it (e.g. Ben Stiller and Samuel L. Jackson). Extras: Season Two has a much better selection of star cameos; particularly, because the actors know what to do and their roles are better prepared. So, to begin with, the core idea for the show is in a much better position.
In addition to recruiting better costars, Extras: Season Two has immeasurably funnier situations for the cast to deal with. Instead of being stuck in on-set calamities, many of the funniest scenes occur beyond the scope of a television set. Episode 2 has the gang out at a bar fending off Andy's new found fame as well as David Bowie ridiculing "the funny fat man". In Episode 4 Andy and his agent have quite a crazy time at the BAFTA Awards, especially when trying to explain their drug use in an award show bathroom. Finally, in Episode 5 Andy gets some stage work with Sir Ian McKellan that is a bit more homo-erotic than he was ready to accept. These three situations all happen outside of the set and add just the right amount of variety to the show.
One of the other changes that has bolstered the show is the expanded use of Stephen Merchant and Shaun Williamson. Merchant is Andy's agent (Darren Lamb) and Shaun plays himself (as Darren's assistant and client). The duo add a completely new level of bits, gags, and situations. Whether it is Darren's inability to refer to his client by his real name (he calls Shaun "Barry from EastEnders") or Shaun's puppy dog-like sadness, the two guys support the show's subtle shift from arrogant smart-ass comedy to a much smarter (sometimes slower) blend of comedy.
Also, the addition of a show-within-a-show gag is a stroke of genius. While "When the Whistle Blows" starts as quite a sad gag of a sitcom, I found myself interested in seeing the fake show in full length form. Having Gervais mock the sitcom genre while completely reveling in it is consistently hysterical. And then, to invite Chris Martin from Coldplay to pretend to sell himself out is beyond genius. The idea of a show-within-a-show is very difficult to pull off and the work in Extras: Season Two should be textbook for anyone looking to explore this genre.
Overall, Extras: Season Two finally lives up to the potential of The Office and Gervais & Merchant's work online (they co-host the funniest podcast ever made). There isn't a single weak episode in the set and well worth buying. The bonus features include six episodes of interviews that are perfect fit for fans of Gervais & Merchant's podcasts. The other bonus features are nice but it is really the interviews that make buying this DVD worthwhile.