`Extras' has comic brilliance of `The Office'

January 07, 2007|By DAVID ZURAWIK

EXTRAS: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON -- HBO Video -- $29.98

Before decrying the sad state of TV comedy, check out the first six episodes of the HBO series, Extras, from Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, creators of the original BBC version of The Office.

From poignancy and pathos, to slapstick and sex-romp farce, Extras offers an emotional range unmatched since the days of M*A*S*H (1972-'83 CBS).

Gervais (pronounced Jer-vase), who starred as narcissistic office manager David Brent in the original version of The Office, here plays Andy Millman, an embittered 40-year-old movie extra endlessly scheming for a speaking part.

Millman's caustic take on life is superbly balanced by his friend and fellow extra, Maggie Jacobs, played with a sweet loopiness by Ashley Jenson.

Each episode finds Millman, who bears a resemblance to the Pillsbury doughboy, and Jacobs on a different movie set with a different movie star in the leading role. The series opens with Kate Winslet starring as a nun in a Holocaust film.

Between takes, a chain-smoking Winslet complains endlessly about other actresses winning Academy Awards and coaches Maggie on how best to satisfy a new boyfriend's phone-sex fetish. Maggie can hardly believe her ears as Winslet serves up samples of her best X-rated telephone talk.

But as winning a turn as Winslet offers, it's Gervais' Millman who steals the show when he tries to pass himself off as a Catholic in hopes of hooking up with another extra who is a devout believer. The moment at which Millman is unmasked by the woman's priest is a scream.

Special features

These include an interview with Merchant and Gervais in which they skillfully explain the concept and comic sensibility of the series.

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david.zurawik@baltsun.com

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