Monday, December 17, 2007

Fame's fickle finger

Like his series The Office before it, Ricky Gervais' Extras ran for just two short seasons, and is now followed by this Christmas-oriented sequel might be the most poignant (and ornery) thing he's ever done. Picking up where season two left off, Andy's frustrated with his good fortune and finds even more embarrassing ways to sabatoge his career, including an untimely girdle break, and insulting his in-studio audience while the end of his series, When the Whistle Blows.

Gervais' first love has always been music (see Seona Dancing,) but he's resisted using popular music to underscore any of his scenes. Oh, he's picked up a guitar himself on The Office, and even had both David Bowie and Chris Martin (Coldplay) make guest appearances on Extras, but he's refrained from using as dramatic score. Not so with this finale, as he uses several songs to punctuate dramatic moments, nearly all with Maggie (Ashley Jensen, better known for Ugly Betty). For scenes of Maggie's depression following her decision to give up acting, Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" does the trick. And, as if to reference a John Hughes' movie, she shuffles along at one point to The Smiths' "Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want."

Meanwhile, since it's a Christmas special, they use the beautiful bells of Sufjan Stevens' "Angels We Have Heard on High" to tie many of the scenes together and keep at least a modicum of Christmas spirit in the middle of Gervais' Scrooge-like turns.

Extras has, from the start, attracted a wealth of guest stars, and this special is no exception with hilarious turns from Clive Owen, having a laugh at movie star arrogance; George Michael, hilariously revisiting his bathroom arrest; and Gordon Ramsey, who uses his special talent of arguing to get a laugh in the name of satire. But, really, the purpose of the whole special is to deliver his Howard Beale-like 'Mad as Hell' diatribe pointing his finger at all involved in playing the fickle game of celebrity, including himself:
The Victorian freak show never went away. Now it’s called ‘Big Brother’ or ‘American Idol,’ where in the preliminary rounds we wheel out the bewildered to be sniggered at by multimillionaires.... the networks, you can’t wash your hands of this. You can’t keep going, ‘Oh, it’s exploitation, but it’s what the public wants.’ No.

And fuck you for watching this at home. Shame on you. And shame on me. I’m the worst of all. Cause I’m one of these people that goes, ‘I’m an entertainer, it’s in my blood.’ Yeah, it’s in my blood because a real job’s too hard.
It's a great moment that's spoiled somewhat by the Hollywood ending of Andy riding off into the anonymous sunset with Maggie. Touching, but just the sort of ending Andy might question.

Playlist: Extras Finale Special
1. "Angels We Have Heard on High" - Sufjan Stevens - Used in department store opening and several segues between scenes throughout
2. "This Woman's Work" - Kate Bush - Maggie's decision to give up acting, washing dishes
3. "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want" - The Smiths - Maggie's further despare
4. "Tea For The Tillerman" - Cat Stevens - Theme credits

Previously: Chris Martin's Having a Laugh (Ep 2.04), Bowie's Little Fat Man (Ep 2.02)

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