Year it began: 2005
Where it can be seen: Netflix, DVD
Who’s in it: Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant, Ashley Jensen
Typical episode length: About 30 minutes (season 2 finale about 90 minutes).
Number of episodes to date: 13
Brief plot description: Andy Millman (Gervais) is a struggling actor who finds himself taking roles as an extra while he waits for his big break. His friend Maggie (Jenson), who also keeps employed (for the most part) in the cinematic background is along for the ride. The second season sees Millman finally get his “break.”
Why it’s worth watching: If you like a little cringe with your TV snacks, you’ve come to the right place. Watching Gervais in almost anything since he came on the scene in the original, British version of “The Office” offers viewers the chance to run the gamut of emotions from pity to “Why doesn’t somebody slap that guy?” He’s often clueless, usually smug, and almost never politically correct — but always in that funny kind of way Gervais has perfected over the years.
Watch guest star David Bowie improvise a ditty at a nightclub piano about Millman’s dreadful career while Millman squirms as the crowd eats it up; squirm a bit yourself as Millman plays a Nazi extra, cracking KKK jokes with Maggie during a break in filming; and listen to Millman keep explaining to anyone who’ll listen that he’s a “real actor,” and not just an extra.
The regular supporting cast of Merchant and Jensen at times almost — almost! — makes Gervais’ character appear normal. Merchant (who also writes, produces and directs, and who collaborated with Gervais on “The Office”) plays the most inept agent in all of moviedom (he was working in a car phone store before taking on Millman as a client). The Scottish-born Jensen is the last person you’d tell anything to in confidence, unless of course you’re Andy Millman.
Things take a turn in season two, when Millman gets his own sitcom on BBC2. The critics hate it, but “When the Whistle Blows” draws in 6- to 7 million viewers per week. With it’s corny “Are you ‘aving a laugh?” catch-phrase, and a terrible wig along with a pair of nerd glasses, it’s not difficult to see how even a character as shallow as Millman seems unsatisfied. Do we feel sorry for him yet? Nah.
The guest star roster is A-List, appearing as themselves and for the most part 180 degrees from what we’d expect. Samuel L. Jackson, Daniel Radcliffe, Ben Stiller, Gordon Ramsay and a hilarious Kate Winslet are just a few of the big names who appear, along with many British actors recognizable to regular viewers of BBC America.
Whatever you do for a living, you’ll probably feel better about it after watching all 13 episodes of “Extras.”