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Extras: Series 2 Review

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Gervais and Merchant find themselves a hard act to follow

★★★★

By the standards of pretty much any other comic duo working today, this would be a triumph and a revelation. But given that it has to follow the impeccable track record of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, a pairing whose every gesture and aside is expected to be a stroke of genius, it marks the first chink in an otherwise immaculate suit of armour.

This time out, it becomes apparent that central character Andy Millman is digging himself into a position where the creators could easily have ended up had they not resisted every idiotic suggestion thrown at them during the development of The Office. It’s fun to watch Andy’s scruples being whittled away — mostly courtesy of his useless agent, Darren Lamb (Merchant) — but the conceit of his now utterly rubbish sitcom When The Whistle Blows becoming a hit with the masses is one that can only really be appreciated in hindsight.There are some great ideas — what happens when you’re hated by critics but loved by fans, and what if you don’t particularly like your fans? — but they’re ideas that only work after you’ve seen an entire episode, not necessarily as you’re watching it.

You can’t really criticise the decision to bolster Darren’s screentime (and thus that of Shaun “Barry off of EastEnders” Williamson), but it comes at the expense of sweet and dippy Maggie (Ashley Jensen), and even if we are given a scene between just the two of them — one of the most painfully hilarious first dates in history — we miss her foot-in-mouth outbreaks.

There are other small niggles: Andy, normally a rational human being, develops homophobia for the sake of a set-up, and Keith Chegwin portrays himself as a racist bigot. Presumably this echoes the Les Dennis episode in series one, but without that episode’s grating ring of truth, it’s more baffling than anything else.

But Extras still has much to offer, to be sure, and we feel a bit bad for knocking exactly the changes that we might have criticised the creators for had they not made them. The writing is still outstanding, and their ongoing refusal to stay in a comfort zone is to be endlessly commended. The characters have lost neither their charm, nor their ability to make us cringe. We still get an incredible line-up of celebs (among them Orlando Bloom, David Bowie, Daniel Radcliffe, Ronnie Corbett, Sir Ian McKellen and Robert De Niro) more than willing to make fun of themselves. And of course, we get another three hours of what consistently remains a bloody good laugh.

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