Thursday, December 16, 2010
Christmarathon Day 16: Extras Christmas Special
What it isn't, however, is a Christmas special. I suppose it is called that in the most literal possible sense, considering how it was a "special" that aired in the month of December. The story took place in December, and every now and again one of the characters would walk past a Christmas wreath or some festive lights, but that was the full extent of the Christmas theme. So don't go into it expecting Andy Millman (brilliantly played by the always brilliant Ricky Gervais) to be visited by three spirits who show him the errors of his ways. In fact, don't even go into it expecting anything even remotely related to Christmas at all. Other than the title, this Christmas special shouldn't even be a part of my Christmarathon at all.
But I'm glad I did watch it, because it was hilarious and clever and every bit as entertaining and awkward and witty as the original series run of Extras. If you liked the show, this defacto third season finale is a must see. If you haven't seen the original run of Extras, however, this special makes for a horrible jumping-on point, since it takes place immediately after season two and makes only the most perfunctory attempts to introduce the characters, their situations, and their relationships to one another. Many of the jokes and set ups are call backs to joke and situations from the previous two seasons of the show. If you watch this cold, you'll still enjoy it and laugh at all of the big set pieces, but you won't appreciate it on the same level as you would having been a long-time fan of the series. But Extras and this Christmas Special are so good, it's worth putting in the time to start from the beginning and watch them all.
All of the characters from the series are here, including, of course, series star and co-creator Ricky Gervais. Gervais is always good, but I don't think he's ever delivered a performance as funny or nuanced as the one he did here. No, it's not a riff on a Christmas Carol, but Andy does change over the course of the special, and his big speech at the end was outstanding. Ashley Jensen is just as charming and goofy here as she was in the show, but her character's story is allowed to get even more dark and melancholy, and she manages to make it all both sad and funny in the ways that only a show like Extras can pull off. Best of all is Stephen Merchant (who also co-created this show as well as The Office) as Andy's pathetically clueless manager, who finally gets fired by Andy and then gets a job as a cell phone salesman. Merchant stole every scene he was in during the original series, and he steals every scene in this Christmas Special as well. His character is one of the best creations in TV history (no exaggeration), and every scene he's ever been in has been on of the funniest things I've ever seen.
So check it out. I watched the entire thing (all 90 or so minutes of it) in various parts on youtube. There's a US version and a UK version, but I couldn't tell you the differences between the two because I only watched the UK version. I would imagine maybe the US version replaced some of the more British-centric jokes with ones that US audiences would more likely get, which makes me think that is probably the version to watch on our side of the pond. A lot of the references to British poular culture icons (especially in the extended bit at the end where Andy becomes a member of Celebrity Big Brother) were lost on me, and I like to think I'm a very cultured man of the world. But, luckily, most of the humor is universal, and even the most vague references are told in a way that you can still get the joke.
Two thumbs way up.