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New Gervais Series: 'Extra’ Cringe-Worthy

9/16/2005 8:00 PM Eastern

Home Box Office may have found a worthy cringe-worthy companion to Curb Your Enthusiasm in Extras.

A British Broadcasting Corp. co-production from the men behind BBC America’s Golden Globe-winning The Office — Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant — Extras follows the exploits of Andy Millman (Gervais), an aspiring actor who flits about from atmospheric role to atmospheric role, in search of the elusive speaking part.

With him on the extras circuit is Maggie Jensen (Ashley Jacobs), who, when not looking for work, is on the lookout for a boyfriend, while Merchant plays his almost-useless agent. Unlike the ensemble Office, only Andy and Maggie are in each installment. Such notables as Kate Winslet and Ben Stiller also appear in episodes, as “celebrity” cameos, and often act as inappropriately as Gervais and friends.

In the premiere, Andy dons Nazi garb to appear in a holocaust film — a vehicle for Titanic star Winslet. When Andy tells her he admires her for the project, she responds that she’s in it for the Oscar — a bit of brutal honesty that rattles him.

Like The Office, Extras is chock-full of those uncomfortable moments, many supplied by Maggie — she makes a pass at a production assistant during a film on the violence in the Balkans while still wearing a prosthetic gunshot wound to the head in one episode. In another, she gets squeamish over advice from Winslet about how to handle phone sex with her boyfriend (such as, say, “I’d love it if you’d put your Willy Wonka between my Oompa-loompas”).

Stiller also gets in on the self-mockery in the Balkans film episode, playing himself as a tyrannical director who quotes the box-office receipts of his comedic films as the way to assert his superiority. But that episode’s highlights revolve around Andy’s attempts to butter up the survivor on whom the story was based in his unending quest for dialogue.

Andy’s interactions are also cringe-worthy. In the third episode, Andy and a rival actor spark a fight between “hardman” British actor Ross Kemp and ex-footballer Vinnie Jones, both of whom are familiar to fans of the U.K. primetime soap EastEnders. But the situation offers laughs even to Americans who aren’t quite so familiar with that show.

Extras isn’t quite as dark as The Office, in part because unlike David Brent, there’s a lot to like about Andy. It’s also less character-driven and more gag-intensive. But it’s every bit as funny.

Extras debuts Sept. 25 at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.

 

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