Extras (TV series)
Extras is a British sitcom about extras working in television, film, and theatre. The series was co-produced by the BBC and HBO and was created, written, and directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, both of whom also starred in it. Extras follows the lives of Andy Millman (Gervais), his platonic friend Maggie Jacobs (Ashley Jensen), and Andy's substandard agent and part-time retail employee Darren Lamb (Merchant) as Millman muddles through life as an anonymous "background performer" who eventually finds success as a B-level sitcom star.
|Created by||Ricky Gervais|
|Written by||Ricky Gervais|
|Directed by||Ricky Gervais|
|Ending theme||"Tea for the Tillerman"|
by Cat Stevens
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||2|
|No. of episodes||13 (list of episodes)|
|Camera setup||Single camera|
|Running time||30 mins (regular episodes)|
90 mins (special)
|Original network||BBC Two (UK) (series 1–2)|
BBC One (UK) (special)
|Picture format||576i (PAL) (series 1–2)|
1080i (HDTV) (special)
|Original release||21 July 2005 –|
27 December 2007
Extras has two series of six episodes each as well as a Christmas Special. The first episode aired in the UK on 21 July 2005 on BBC Two and on 25 September 2005 on HBO in the US. The second series premiered in the UK on BBC Two on 14 September 2006 and began airing in the US on HBO and in Australia on ABC on 14 February 2007. The Christmas Special aired on 27 December 2007 on BBC One and on 16 December 2007 on HBO. Both series are available on DVD and, at various times, through streaming services in the UK and the US.
The series is filmed in a more traditional sitcom style than the mockumentary style used by Gervais and Merchant in their previous series The Office. Each episode has at least one guest star: a television or film celebrity, who play what Gervais and Merchant have referred to as "twisted" versions of themselves; an exaggerated or inverted parody of their public personas.
The show has been critically acclaimed, and has a Metacritic score of 81/100.
Cast and characters
Andy Millman (Ricky Gervais) is an aspiring actor who can only find work as an extra which he calls being a "background artist" as a means of making the work seem more dignified. Andy is accompanied on his various projects by his platonic best friend and fellow extra, Maggie Jacobs (Ashley Jensen). Maggie is well-meaning but ditzy, often missing obvious social cues and failing to exhibit appropriate tact and subtlety in conversations. Unlike Andy, Maggie has no aspirations toward being anything more than an extra. Andy's agent, Darren Lamb (Stephen Merchant) is a part-time employee of mobile phone retailer Carphone Warehouse, and has no real experience in the field of entertainment. He is incompetent, often taking no steps at all to find work for Andy, and even discouraging potential employers from hiring his client due to his flabby physique, age, and lack of acting experience. Darren is assisted by former soap opera star Shaun Williamson, who plays himself. Lamb frequently tries to undermine Andy by suggesting Williamson (who Lamb refers to by his former EastEnders character name, "Barry") is better suited for various acting roles that are offered to Andy.
Fed up with life as an extra who is always being cut out of scenes just as he manages to get his face on camera, Andy shamelessly kisses up to celebrities and producers in an effort to try to get screen time or a line of dialogue. Although often successful in these endeavours, circumstances always arise that prevent Andy from advancing his career. Reasons include celebrities confessing that they have no real power to help, or (more often) Andy inadvertently offending the star which results in his immediate dismissal from the set.
In the conclusion of season one, Andy successfully delivers a sitcom script he has written to Patrick Stewart who, in turn, passes it along to the BBC through his production company. Andy gets a meeting with BBC comedy producers who greenlight his project and agree to allow him to play the starring role in the show.
Series Two largely chronicles Andy's frustrations with his sitcom--When the Whistle Blows--which is heavily rewritten by BBC producers resulting in it being a lowest-common-denominator comedy that relies on a multitude of catchphrases, offensive stereotypes, and silly costumes for cheap laughs. Although the sitcom is commercially successful, pulling six million weekly viewers, it is a flop with critics who mercilessly bash both it and Andy. Andy periodically gets a chance to expand his repertoire in film and on stage but manages to ruin every opportunity that comes his way by either refusing to take direction, or by once again offending bigger stars than himself.
In the series' 90-minute finale, the sitcom has made Andy financially successful and recognisable to many, but he is increasingly frustrated with the show's quality and with his career not moving forward. Andy is convinced to fire Darren as his agent and become a client of a larger, more professional firm which he believes will accelerate his path upward. After taping a Christmas Special for When the Whistle Blows, he announces to the live studio audience that he is quitting the series effective immediately. His career falls into total stagnation and Andy is forced to take bit parts on various long-running British television series such as Doctor Who and Hotel Babylon. Eventually, his agent ceases to take his calls. Andy's relationship with Maggie sours as he frequently ignores her, and spends all of the time they spend together complaining about not getting the opportunities he feels he deserves.
When he crashes his agent's lunch meeting at a posh restaurant, he is bluntly told that he will never realise his dreams of having fame, fortune, prestige and respect. Crushed, Andy reluctantly agrees to lower his expectations for the sake of remaining modestly famous and successful, and is cast in Celebrity Big Brother. While staying in the Celebrity Big Brother house, Andy openly reflects upon the price of fame and grows increasingly disenchanted with the culture of celebrity worship that has manifested itself throughout Western society.
His despondency culminates in an emotional breakdown during a conversation with the other housemates. He tearfully turns to the camera and apologises to Maggie, who is watching the broadcast from her flat, for ignoring her and not heeding her advice to be grateful for the things he has managed to achieve. He voluntarily departs the house, ending his tenure on the show. Moved by the unexpected outpouring of emotion, a group of journalists eagerly awaits Andy's appearance at a press conference. Andy's agent returns, and tells him that his emotional turn has instantly skyrocketed Andy's profile, and that a number of A-list stars are requesting to meet him. As his agent prepares to introduce him to the throng of waiting press, Andy quietly slips out the back door of the studio where Maggie is waiting for him in her car. They drive off together with Andy seemingly turning his back on showbusiness and accepting a life of anonymity.
|First aired||Last aired|
|1||6||21 July 2005||25 August 2005|
|2||6||14 September 2006||19 October 2006|
|Christmas special||16 December 2007|
There are twelve regular episodes and a 90-minute Christmas special.
When the first series was originally broadcast in the UK, the episode featuring Ben Stiller was broadcast first, followed by the Ross Kemp and Vinnie Jones episode the following week. When the series was repeated over the Christmas holiday 2005, the episodes were returned to their intended order, with Ross Kemp first, followed by Stiller. The first series DVD, released in the UK on 31 October 2005, also preserves this same order, along with the Extras script book.
UK and US version differences
There were some subtle changes between the UK and US versions, with references to the names of British celebrities often being changed to American celebrities for the US edition.
In Season 2, episode 1, Keith Chegwin's anti-gay tirade includes the sentence "Men have knobs, women have fannies. Pop knob in fanny. Not up the arse." In British English "fanny" is a euphemism for vagina, while in American English "fanny" is a term for buttocks. A scene was shot, and aired in the US, in which Chegwin says "Men have dicks. Women have vaginas. Pop dick in vagina. Not up the bum."
In Season 2, episode 3, in the scene where Darren Lamb tells Andy Millman about an offer that has come in for Andy to play a supporting role in a film, Lamb mistakenly says the film stars Billie Piper. For the American broadcast, an alternative take was used where Merchant's character says, "How do you fancy three days with Halle Berry?" In each case, Piper and Berry's names are mistaken for the name Harry Potter (actor Daniel Radcliffe guest stars in the episode).
In Season 2, episode 4, a scene featuring UK TV presenter Moira Stuart was completely excised from the US version and a song by Coldplay frontman Chris Martin replaced it; the latter was featured as a deleted scene on the DVD releases.
In the Christmas special the talking "Jade Goody" doll was replaced by a talking "Kramer" doll. (Both dolls parodied incidents where each celebrity said things publicly that were generally seen as racist.) The T-shirt in the studio audience depicting Victoria Wood and Asda is replaced in the US version by a T-shirt depicting Sigourney Weaver and DirectTV. A scene with George Michael was also truncated to remove references to UK celebrities Richard and Judy and Catherine Tate. A scene set in the Carphone Warehouse was edited to remove jokes referring to the long running BBC soap opera EastEnders.
When the Whistle Blows
When the Whistle Blows is the show-within-a-show sitcom created, co-written by and starring Andy Millman. It was first mentioned in episode 1.3, as a script that Millman had written and given to Darren, who neglected to read it (in a recurring joke, he would frequently forget the name of the show, often calling it When the Wind Blows and even confusing it with The Wind in the Willows). The script was turned into a sitcom on BBC One in the first season finale, after Millman gave the script to Patrick Stewart. Excerpts from the sitcom are featured in the second season, and many of the Extras second season plotlines revolve around Millman's experiences on and around the show.
When the Whistle Blows is set in a Wigan factory canteen. The humour is broad and lowbrow in the manner of many catchphrase-based sitcoms. The main catchphrase of the show, "Are you 'avin' a laugh?," is spoken by Millman. The show is unpopular with critics but popular with the public. It does receive a BAFTA nomination, although Millman suspects it is there simply to make up the numbers, and in the end it loses to an unspecified programme by Stephen Fry.
Millman is deeply unhappy with the show, feeling that too many people have interfered with his original ideas in the hunt for ratings. It appears that Millman originally set out to do a comedy similar to The Office, with true-to-life characters in a realistic work environment, without a studio audience or canned laughter. After being forced to collaborate and compromise many of his ideas with producers at the BBC, the show is transformed into lowest common denominator fare with each character having his/her own catchphrase which are repeated ad nauseam to the delight of its 6 million viewers. The show is further debased by the unexplained guest appearance of Coldplay's Chris Martin, in episode 2.4, which bears no relation to the plot and which Millman openly opposes, going so far as to utter the on-camera line, "Chris Martin, what are you doing in a factory in Wigan? It's mental!"
The presence of studio audiences/canned laughter, and the reliance on funny wigs, costumes and catchphrases for humour is a comment on British comedy hits such as Little Britain and The League of Gentlemen. Many people that Millman sees at the recording of the pilot wear T-shirts displaying comedy catchphrases, such as "Wassup", "It's Chico Time", "I'm a lady!", "Am I bovvered?" and "Garlic bread?." (These shirts are not shown in the US version of Extras.) Some of the reviews that the show gets refer to it as a "time warp comedy", and Millman's character talks about 1970s catchphrases such as Mr Humphreys' "I'm Free" (from Are You Being Served?) and Frank Spencer's "Ooh Betty" (from Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em), suggesting that it is also partly sending up 1970s British comedy. In episode 2.5, Germaine Greer suggests that When the Whistle Blows is "sub Carry On".
The closing title track is called "Tea for the Tillerman", which is written and performed by Cat Stevens and is the title track of his album Tea for the Tillerman. The fourth episode of the second series of the show features a cover of the song performed by Chris Martin of Coldplay.
The song in the Christmas Special highlighting Maggie's depression after she hits bottom and quits acting is "This Woman's Work" by Kate Bush. When Andy is having a bad time at The Ivy restaurant and leaves Maggie on her own, The Smiths' song "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want" can be heard.
Guest star cancellations and replacements
According to a segment in the extras section of the Series 1 DVD, Jude Law was scheduled to appear in one of the episodes, after meeting Gervais backstage on the Late Show with David Letterman, but had to pull out due to film commitments. This resulted in Gervais and Merchant having to scramble to find a replacement actor at the last minute, with Leonardo DiCaprio being considered and doggedly pursued. A featurette on the first series DVD release, "Finding Leo", consists of late-night video camera footage (shot mostly by Merchant) chronicling Gervais' desperate but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to contact DiCaprio's representatives. Law was ultimately replaced by Patrick Stewart in the series 1 finale, although a poster for the Jude Law film Alfie appeared at the end. Other actors who did not appear in Extras despite initial reports from Gervais that they would appear include Madonna, Brad Pitt, and Tom Cruise. Keith Harris turned down a part having read the script, telling The Independent "This isn't clever writing, it's pure filth".
Awards and nominations
|Golden Globe Award||
|Primetime Emmy Award|
|British Academy of Film and Television Arts||
|British Comedy Awards||
|BANFF World Television Awards||
Overall, Extras has been received very well by critics in the UK. The show received 3 BAFTA Award nominations in 2006 including Best Comedy Performance for Ashley Jensen, Best Writer for Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, and Best Situation Comedy. In 2007, both Gervais and Merchant were nominated, separately, for Best Comedy Performance, with Gervais ultimately winning the award.
The show has also received accolades in the US. In 2006, the show received four nominations at the 58th Primetime Emmy Awards. Ben Stiller and Patrick Stewart received nominations for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series and both lost to Leslie Jordan on Will & Grace. Kate Winslet received a nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series and lost to Cloris Leachman for Malcolm in the Middle. Gervais and Merchant were also nominated for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for the episode with Kate Winslet. They lost to Greg Garcia for writing the pilot episode of My Name Is Earl.
In 2007, the show received four nominations at the 59th Primetime Emmy Awards. Gervais was nominated for and won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, and Ian McKellen was nominated for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series. Gervais and Merchant were also nominated for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series for Daniel Radcliffe and Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series for Orlando Bloom. Extras made the Top 10 list of Outstanding Comedy Series but was not nominated in the Top 5.
In 2008, the finale earned five nominations at the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards. The special was nominated for Outstanding Made for Television Movie, losing out to Recount. On the acting side, Gervais was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie, losing to Paul Giamatti in John Adams, while Jensen received her first Emmy nomination with a nod in the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie category. She lost out to Eileen Atkins in Cranford. Gervais and Merchant received nominations for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie, or Dramatic Special, as well as in the Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie, or Dramatic Special category, but lost the former to Jay Roach for Recount and the latter to Kirk Ellis for John Adams.
- HBO: Extras
- Lee, Alana (March 2005). "BBC - Movies - interview - Ricky Gervais". BBC. Retrieved 29 August 2008.
- HBO: Extras – Episode 12, Season 2
- Dessau, Bruce (1 October 2006). "Little at Large". The Scotsman. Retrieved 29 August 2008.
- Lelane, Drake (18 December 2007). "Music on Extras: Fame's Fickle Finger". film.com. Archived from the original on 16 June 2008. Retrieved 11 September 2008.
- Smith, Neil (14 July 2005). "Extras 'a nightmare' says Gervais". BBC News. Retrieved 29 August 2008.
- Williams, Lowri (8 November 2005). "Tom Cruise To Appear In Ricky Gervais' 'Extras'". EntertainmentWise. Retrieved 29 August 2008.