HBO's 'Extras' packs a lot of laughs into six episodes

The Baltimore Sun

EXTRAS: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON HBO $29.98

Is it better to be a wannabe or a minor celebrity known for a dubious achievement?

That's the question comically explored in the excruciatingly funny second season of Extras, the HBO sitcom created by and starring Rickey Gervais and Stephen Merchant, the team that made the original version of The Office for BBC television. Each season of the cable sitcom is only six episodes long, but this six pack holds more laughs and moments of wisdom than any other comedy on American TV -- including Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO).

For those not familiar with Extras, think Seinfeld, the hit sitcom of the 1990s. Instead of the three adult pals of Jerry, Elaine and George in the NBC series, there's a trio of show-biz buddies in Extras -- Andy Millman (Gervais), Maggie Jacobs (Ashley Jenson) and Darren Lamb (Stephen Merchant). Andy and Maggie are actors who work mainly as extras. Darren is Andy's maddeningly clueless agent.

While Andy's embittered by his anonymity in Season 1, that changes in the second year of the series when Andy creates a sitcom that is picked up by the BBC. (More echoes of Seinfeld and the fictional sitcom "about nothing" created by Jerry and George for NBC.)

The reviews for Andy's ham-handed series about a group of factory workers are terrible.

"Worst sitcom of all time," writes one reviewer.

"Makes you want to gouge your own eyes out rather than watch one more minute," says another.

But, the show finds an audience, and Andy, who plays a cartoonish boss defined by a silly catchphrase in the series, starts getting noticed. The exhilaration of "fame," however, is quickly replaced by Andy's realization that he has become a figure of public ridicule due to the hack nature of his work.

Each episode features cameos by legitimately famous performers, and no one does a better turn during Season 2 than David Bowie.

Flush with his series making its debut on BBC, Andy insists on being seated in the VIP section of a nightclub with Bowie and a group of the singer's guests. Bowie responds by instantly composing and singing a song about Andy.

"The little man who sold his soul, sold his dreams," Bowie croons, as the room becomes hushed. "The clown that no one laughs at. Catchphrase and wig, and the jokes are lame. He's got no style, and he's got no grace."

See Andy cringe in the second season of the funniest sitcom on American TV.

Special features

Available Tuesday, the DVD includes more add-ons than the Season 1 video. With a cast of visiting celebrities that includes Orlando Bloom, Daniel Radcliffe, Robert De Niro and Ian McKellen, the backstage stuff is a rare treat.

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david.zurawik@baltsun.com

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