As ‘Extras’ comes to the end of its BBC2 run, Ricky Gervais looks like a smarter operator than ever. With high levels of audience anticipation and a guest star in every episode, the BBC wanted to air his new sitcom on BBC1, but Gervais argued the case for putting it on BBC2 and letting it build an audience from there. He openly anticipated a backlash and didn’t want to encourage it.
As it happens, there has been a bit of a backlash against ‘Extras’, but it’s been a comparatively minor one (certainly compared to what surely awaits poor Lucas and Walliams when ‘Little Britain’ returns). More than one person has said to me that they watched the first episode, but turned off halfway through when they realised that they’d had enough of feeling painfully embarrassed on the characters’ behalf.
Although ‘Extras’ is a fine example of what it is, there’s a sense that the comedy of embarrassment which has defined so many British sitcoms since ‘I’m Alan Partridge’ is falling out of vogue. Although there is more to ‘Extras’ than this – the friendship between Gervais’ character and Ashley Jensen’s is neatly drawn and her dizziness is the source of many good jokes – embarrassing situations remain its main stock in trade.
I was never the biggest fan of ‘The Office’ – I thought it was very good, but it just wasn’t a favourite of mine – and I think ‘Extras’ compares well, but there’s no doubt that it’s nowhere near as universal as ‘The Office’, it’s more of an ‘insider’ show. As some commentators have pointed out, it’ll fit in beautifully on HBO, home of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’, ‘Entourage’ and ‘The Comeback’.
The BBC’s HBO deal may yet be a Godsend, and not just from a financial viewpoint: it makes it more likely that Gervais and Stephen Merchant will return for another series even though they’re starting to get offered their own projects in the US. Nevertheless I feel that their time on the British sitcom zeitgeist has passed: they’ll move on to other things.
So what’s the next British comedy trend? If it was up to me it’d be rampant surrealism a la ‘The Mighty Boosh’ but that’s not going to happen, is it?
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