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Extras! See All About Them!

Original Office star Ricky Gervais spins his comedic ideas on their heads and comes up with another cutting series.

gervais.jpgWith his new HBO series, “Extras,” Ricky Gervais of the truly genius comedy series “The Office” proves he’s not just a one-trick pony. Following “Curb Your Enthusiasm” on HBO’s Sunday night schedule, Extras features Gervais as a character who is like Larry David only without the money -- a struggling actor who can’t seem to move beyond extra parts.

Like David playing himself, Gervais’ character, Andy Millman, can’t seem to get out of his own way, forever offending the people who could have helped him. What Gervais adds to the mix, however, is the awkward moments that fueled so much of the comedy in “The Office.”

When Andy confronts Ben Stiller -- who is playing himself as the director of a movie with a war refugee story for being out of line with the extras -- with snide remarks about Stiller’s movies, the laughs come both because you can’t believe this guy would have the balls to say such things and at recognition of the guy’s cluelessness at how he’s sabotaging himself.

In effect, Gervais wrote many of the traits of his David Brent character from The Office into Stiller’s role, especially evident as Stiller delivers a pompous monologue about why he’s making the film about the Eastern European war refugee instead of another comedy. This shows Gervais is willing to turn the tables and take a character with low status, which makes it tougher for that character to come out on top, therefore fertilizing a richer comedic soil.

Gervais further shows a willingness to come off in unflattering fashion to fuel the comedy in tandem with two other extras who are regulars co-starring with him. The effect is similar to what David did as the collaborator on “Seinfeld,” with framing the four leads in that show as always out for themselves. The misfires of all the leads in “Extras” all tie together at the ends of episodes neatly just as “Seinfeld” did.

In fact, “Extras” could be called a hybrid of “The Office,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Seinfeld” -- an artistic comedic mix in which Gervais shows he’s still got it when it comes to creating intelligent and innovative episodic television comedy. “Extras” entertains as it explores sophisticated ideas about characters in comedy and draws its laughs by showing what happens with people acting in their basest self-interest.





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