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- Published on Amazon.com
The modern obsession with fame was explored by writers Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant in The Office in the form of David Brent, a middle manager who made an idiot of himself on a BBC documentary series and then paid for it by losing his job and spending nights making appearances at nightclubs in front of people who couldn't care less about him.
In Extras, Gervais and Merchant returned to the celebrity theme as Andy Millman, the character played by Gervais, discovered that the perks attached to starring in the very popular, albeit extremely lowbrow, comedy, When the Whistle Blows, made it difficult for him to commit to his oft-expressed desire for artistic integrity.
Extras: The Extra Special Series Finale starts with Andy sitting alone on a couch in the Celebrity Big Brother house as the other housemates bicker like emotionally illiterate cretins behind him. This brief scene reveals that when it comes to the conflict between fame and integrity the former is going to win out for Andy at some point during this chapter of Extras.
Gervais convincingly portrays Andy's frustration at his comedic lot and also his desperation when his star fades after he pulls the plug on When the Whistle Blows. "No, I told you a thousand times, I'm not going to play an alien in Dr Who", he asserts to his agent post-Whistle, but in the next scene he's playing an alien in Dr Who.
Andy's progressively more abrasive personality most movingly affects his relationship with his only friend, Maggie (a superb Ashley Jensen).
Maggie's life goes into freefall after she gives up supporting artist work after being degraded by one of her favourite actors on the set of a film about Lord Byron. Clive Owen does an uncomfortably amusing turn as the sexy bastard who insults Maggie.
Andy complains a lot about having to do awful television programs such as Hotel Babylon, but his financially comfortable situation is contrasted with Maggie's dire plight.
Maggie ends up residing in a shabby little flat and vacuuming floors, cleaning toilets and washing dishes for a living. There are some beautifully humorous scenes between Andy and Maggie, including one involving a mud pack and a girdle, that serve to let the viewer know their friendship can be solid, even though it's had its ups and downs, as all meaningful relationships do.
Merchant and Shaun Williamson (aka Barry from EastEnders) are again a terrific double act as the useless agent and his unemployable client, while Shaun Lye, Andy's rival and the man whose parents bought him a house when he was a struggling actor, is deliciously smug as the now successful Greg Lindley Jones.
Gervais and Merchant allow their protagonists to have many and diverse flaws, including jealousy, pettiness, incompetence, stubbornness, stupidity, and arrogance, however, central characters like Andy and Merchant's Darren Lamb are redeemed by traits like vulnerability, loyalty, and sensitivity.
In other words, Gervais and Merchant allow their characters to be human.
It could be argued that Andy's antagonism towards Big Brother and its gathering of "desperate people" (the housemates are, among others, a former contestant on The X Factor and a mother who's well-known because her son was murdered) is undermined by the fact that Gervais watches the show and has discussed episodes of it on his blog.
Although some viewers might think Gervais and Merchant aren't playing it enough for big laughs in Extras: The Extra Special Series Finale, the well-balanced mix of pathos, drama and comedy makes the program brilliant indeed.
Note - Fans of Karl Pilkington should look out for the bald one playing a fickle fan.