19 December 2007

Extras Finale was Extra Fantastic!

Extras is British produced TV series about best friends Andy (Ricky Gervais) and Maggie (Ashley Jensen, Christina of Ugly Betty to most people) who are working their way towards becoming bonafide actors in the glitzy world of entertainment. Along the way, they have to deal with demoralizing situations faced by a movie/tv bit player, or what Andy calls as a "background performer".

The show is particularly interesting because not only does it have an amazing guest list of big named Hollywood stars playing appalling versions of themselves (Daniel Radcliff, Kate Winslet, Ben Stiller, Clive Owen), its brand of comedy is the kind Gervais and co-writer Stephen Merchant is known for: cringe comedy, self incriminating comedy, characters making a fool of themselves. And yet it works with viewers because those cringe-worthy situations are applicable in real life. We empathize with the characters. We know how it feels to be embarrassed.

In Season 1, viewers are showed how Andy and Maggie cope with their jobs as bit players, in that it's never easy to break into the business. In Season 2, Maggie is still a struggling extra while Andy becomes a popular TV comedy actor. His show is a top-rater in the UK but because it was a character that had to wear silly wigs and say funny catchlines (that loses its luster eventually), Andy gets no respect as an "actor". He has the money but no integrity.

In the 80-minute season finale that aired this week, Andy has decided he's had enough of his current job. He tries to get what he can't have: respect as an actor. He quits his TV series and hires a new agent who promises him bigger things. But all his agent gives him are things he didn't want: photo ops with slutty celebs, roles in crappy hit TV series, more fame but no Oscar award. He wants a job that would make the industry take him seriously.

Maggie, in the meantime, gives up on becoming a bit player. She's getting old, acting parts for her age bracket are scarce and she can't forever be a background performer. In contrast to Andy, Maggie just wants whatever TV job she can get and it wasn't happening anymore. With no savings, she moves in a pathetic apartment and gets a job as a cleaning lady.
In a very interesting twist....Andy joins UK's Celebrity Big Brother --- which is like saying that's where desperate actors go to revive their sagging careers. At one point, Andy realizes what he has made for himself and attempts to speak his mind on Big Brother:

If anyone else is wondering why Ricky Gervais wins actor trophies over better known celebrities, there's why. To deliver a performance like that is extra special.

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