A few years back, Ricky Gervais created "The Office," a Dilberty satire on office work. Now, he's created "Extras," a wickedly funny satire on showbiz and acting. And the fact that prominent actors appear in it -- as warped versions of themselves -- is just the icing on the comedy cake.
Andy Millman (Gervais) and Maggie Jacobs (Ashley Jenson) are film extras -- Andy is embittered by his lack of success and his inept agent (Stephen Merchant, Gervais' work partner), while well-meaning Maggie merely pursues a series of crew members on the films they work in.
The first episode features the two working in a biopic directed by a brusque Ben Stiller ("Would you stop going on about your f**king dead wife?"), and Andy gets himself kicked off the set. Subsequently, he ends up in the middle of a feud between UK footballer-turned-actor and Eastenders star Vinnie Jones and Ross Kemp.
In the following episodes, Andy and Maggie blunder around with various stars: Kate Winslet in a nun costume, who teaches Maggie how to talk dirty to her new boyfriend ("I'd love it if you stuck your Willy Wonka in between my Oompa-Loompas!"); Samuel L. Jackson, whom Maggie mixes up with Laurence Fishbourne; and Patrick Stewart, who is writing a movie about mind powers, and as many naked women as possible.
Part of the genius of "Extras" is that it isn't much like any other showbiz parodies -- the lead characters are on the lowest rung of acting, and the big egos are real stars making fun of themselves. Sometimes they play really nasty versions of themselves, such as Winslet saying that she's only making a Holocaust film so she can nab an Oscar.
The other half of the comic genius is Gervais' direction, with most of the jokes based on socially awkward situations. It's all about cringing and giggling at once. Those hideously embarrassing situations -- usually with some hilarious dialogue involving the star guests (Stewart: "The reason you're hearing my rich, sexy voice is that Andy isn't man enough to apologise himself, so he's asked me to do it").
And instead of the obnoxious boss, Andy underplays a sort of befuddled, cynical low-rung worker, but you can really connect with his struggles. He's great when he does things like inadvertantly insult a priest by babbling about pedophilia. Jensen is clumsily charming as Maggie, who tries to be nice to everyone but says all the wrong things ("I like lots of other things, you know -- white or black!").
"Extras" is a hilarious Britcom with talent to burn and an even funnier acting/directing/writing job by Gervais and Merchant. Absolutely sidesplitting.