Ricky Gervais' new sitcom Extras is every bit the match of The Office.
With impressive self-awareness, one of the bonus features on this disc is entitled The Difficult Second Album. The question over whether this is as good as The Office, Gervais global conqueror, doesnt really have an answer. They dont particularly compare. Gervais may play a similar gimlet-eyed sad sack with foot never far from mouth, but Extras isnt just his story. Hes a bit-part player in his own sitcom.
Gervais frustrated background artist doesnt have any major storylines; there are none to be had. Were not waiting for any will-they-wont-they answers or anybody to get their comeuppance. Theres no plot to speak of. The Office was War & Peace compared to this. Initially it seems like a collection of extended sketches, held together by the gimmick of A-list guest stars: thin, but very, very fun. Yet when hang-dog TV hasbeen Les Dennis turns up playing himself as a deluded, attention-seeking loser, it clicks that Extras really is about something, after all: filling the time while you wait for something else be it the next scene, next job, or your life to happen.
Its a faintly depressing set-up that Gervais and co-creator Stephen Merchant (whose Aardman Animation mug makes his agent role increasingly hilarious) balance with sharply written laughs, many of which are so throwaway that theyre difficult to catch on first viewing. The series strongest moment isnt even one of humour and, like the best moments in The Office, its one of silence.
In the final episode it dawns on Andys fellow extra and best mate Maggie (played with huggable perfection by Ashley Jensen) that she may be wasting her life, literally fading into the background. If theres a dry eye in the house, then its a very hard one. Comedies that can hit the funny bone and the heart are a rare thing put David Brent and his mugging ways out of your mind and youll realise that Gervais has, surprisingly quietly, done it again.