The best show on television

Six months ago in this space, I reviewed the first season of Extras, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s follow-up to their international hit The Office. Not being an HBO subscriber, I composed the review without having seen the show’s second season, which recently has been released to DVD.

Had I seen the second season, I wouldn’t have stopped at calling Extras “violently hilarious.” I would have labeled it properly: the best show on TV, with some of the funniest moments I’ve ever seen on a television screen. Here Gervais and Merchant take their concept to a higher level of comedic inspiration, reminiscent of the leap The Office made in its second year.

At the end of the first season of Extras, struggling actor/“bloater” Andy Millman (Gervais) had sold an Office-esque sitcom pilot to the BBC. As the second season opens, When the Whistle Blows has been hopelessly compromised into a tasteless, clichéd comedy, with Millman’s Ray now a be-wigged, bespectacled clown bearing a sublimely idiotic catchphrase: “Are you having a laugh? Is he having a laugh?”

The show becomes a minor hit, and the newly anointed D-lister Millman turns into a national symbol for lowbrow pop culture. With this new emphasis on a running plotline, the celebrity cameos in Extras feel more obligatory, although Daniel Radcliffe, Orlando Bloom and Chris Martin do great self-mockery.

The second season provides two comedy set pieces that rival David Brent’s impromptu dance in The Office. In the first, Millman pours his heart out to David Bowie in a posh club, only to have the singer compose an on-the-spot anthem about a “little fat man who sold his soul” (the lyrics only get crueler from there). The second sequence, highlighting Millman’s degrading appearance at the BAFTA awards ceremony, is a masterpiece of public humiliation.