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Going the Extra Mile

Office creator Ricky Gervais returns with a second season of HBO show that amplifies its first.

Photo: Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais in character at the British television awards.

As he did with “The Office,” Ricky Gervais has created a second season of “Extras,” his HBO show, that builds on the first by fearlessly plunging his own lead character into deeper sinkholes of embarrassment. (See first season review from fall 2005).

Gervais raises the stakes by making his character, movie extra Andy Millman, the star of a cliché-ridden sitcom on the BBC entitled “When The Whistle Blows.” The sitcom started out meaning to be an artistic endeavor like Gervais’ own work, but is quickly reduced to the lowest common denominator by the network’s executives. Millman is put into a curly-haired wig and glasses and given a catchphrase, doubling the humiliation.

And tripling the humiliation, this season’s celebrity cameos usually find Millman compared unfavorably to the celebrity in question, to greatest effect when David Bowie improvises a song insulting him when they encounter each other in the VIP section of a nightclub.

Also, by giving Millman some level of success, however cheesy, instead of just being kicked off of extra work for some social misstep, Gervais makes it possible for the character to embarrass himself in ever grander ways -- like at the British film and television awards (BAFTAs) in front of all his peers, and in an attempt at acting in a prestigious play where he lets his homophobia get the better of him.

By taking the series in this direction, Gervais has found a whole new way to pack a lot of humor into a small screen show. The only drawback is that like with “The Office,” Gervais may decide he’s gone out on top and end this series right there.




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