Extras: The Complete First Season (April 1/07)
Extras, the brainchild of Office creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, continues the pair's fascination with moments of extreme awkwardness; much of the series follows Gervais' Andy as he finds himself embroiled in a whole host of unusually uncomfortable situations. It's funny stuff to be sure, but there's certainly no denying that neophytes to Gervais and Merchant's unique brand of comedy will probably be left wondering what the fuss is all about.
Each of the show's six episodes revolve around Andy's efforts to procure work as an actor, though - for the most part - the would-be superstar is generally forced to take on gigs as a background performer. Along with friend Maggie (Ashley Jensen) and bumbling agent Darren (Merchant), Andy finds himself thrust into one demeaning job after another (including a stint as a gay genie in a local production of Aladdin).
In what quickly proves to be one of the series' most ingenious gimmicks, famous folks such as Patrick Stewart, Samuel L. Jackson, and Kate Winslet pop up as themselves and in the process gleefully send up their carefully maintained public personae (Stewart, in particular, has a hilarious scene in which he passionately describes his off-the-wall, nudity-heavy screenplay). And although Gervais and Merchant sometimes fall back on comedic elements that are just unreasonably over-the-top - ie Merchant's increasingly incompetent hijinks - there's little doubt that the majority of this stuff is just flat-out funny.
Gervais clearly deserves the lion's share of kudos for Extras' success, as the actor steps into the shoes of an admittedly unlikeable character with alarming ease. Most of the laughs come from Andy's misguided efforts to ingratiate himself among co-workers, employers, and complete strangers, as well as his bumbling efforts to recover from his penchant for always saying the worst thing possible in any given situation. Gervais' co-star Jensen certainly proves to be the perfect foil for Andy's antics, while Gervais and Merchant have done a fantastic job of peppering the supporting cast with a series of exceedingly talented performers.
Extras isn't perfect, to be sure - some of this stuff is just uncomfortably awkward - but the show is clearly one of the more impressive British imports to come around in a while.