Extras: Episode 1, Episode 2 and Episode 3
Rather than give our readers a full review of each episode to date, I thought I'd jump in at episode three, and round up the other two along the way.
When Ricky Gervais helped created the global phenomenon of The Office, then decided to end production after just two series, few people believed he could follow up on the success with a whole new series that could be as fresh and original in its approach to postmodern comedy.
However, the first series of Extras completely turned the notion of 'sequel syndrome failure' on its head with a simple format which follows the life Andy Millman and his friend Maggie Jacobs as they seek work around the U.K as extras on film sets. All the while, Andy's hapless agent Darren Lamb repeatedly fails in his attempts to secure worthwhile roles for Andy, with every episode invariably featuring a well-known actor, actress or television personality who plays an exaggerated parody of their real-life self.
Samuel Jackson, Ben Stiller, Vinnie Jones, Kate Winslet and Patrick Stewart all graced the first series in thoroughly entertaining over-the-top versions of their own persona, but the real gems of Extras tended to rest with the lesser-known celebrities (well, outside of the U.K. at least), like Les Dennis and Gerard Kelly.
But for me, the real stroke of genius in Extras is Gervais' decision not to play Andy as an embarrassing, pompous and bumbling wreck like David Brent, but instead as an unlucky - but smart - character who simply finds difficulty in extracting himself from unsalvagable situations.
The new series takes the concept of real-life people a step further by giving Andy his own BBC sitcom, When the Whistle Blows (which features regularly throughout the show), in which he plays a caricature factory manager with an annoying catch-phrase.
Of course, editorial interference in the production of his new show has forced Andy to compromise on the finished product, with the result ending up a low-brow, sexual innuendo-ridden sitcom in the vein of Are You Being Served?
Subsequently, the plotline of each new episode of Extras revolves around Andy's inability to cope with the growing infamy associated with his popular, but dumbed-down TV show.
Meanwhile, Maggie continues to seek out roles as a film extra, encountering the likes of a narcissistic Orlando Bloom and an over-sexed Daniel Radcliffe.
The second episode featured the hilarious David Bowie segment that we blogged here on TV Squad last week, in what I feel will eventually be come to be recognized as one of the genuine classic moments in British comedy.
The most recent episode to air here in the UK centered around Andy being offered a part in a new Harry Potter-style movie, with Maggie picking up some extra work alongside him, in the company of Dame Diana Rigg, Warwick Davis -- and the aforementioned Daniel Radcliffe. While Maggie fends off unwelcome sexual advances from Radcliffe, Andy spends his time trying to repair his public image after he accidentally offends the mother of a Down Syndrome teenager in an up-market restaurant.
The only other show I can compare Extras to is Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm - or perhaps Frasier -- where the viewer spends most of the show with their teeth gripped tightly around a clenched bunch of knuckles, as the lead character digs himself further into farcical trouble with every passing moment.
The third episode featured the added bonus of some expertly-crafted inserts from popular daytime television and radio shows here in the UK, in which Andy's public outburst is over-played and discussed. It even includes a segment where his agent Darren attempts to make amends on live TV for Andy's gaffe, succeeding only in making matters worse.
All I can say about Extras is that it is truly a work of genius; not only in its deliberate self-parody of popular film stars and personalities, but with its shamefaced mocking of overrated comedy shows such as Little Britain, and now with a truly unique twist on the show-within-a-show format.
Only Frasier could really make me cringe and laugh out loud this much.
Six shows will never be enough.