I switched on the new series of Extras last night with much anticipation, but have to confess that I thought the satire on the BBC and the way sitcoms are made was a bit rich. Stars/creators (and erstwhile Brit comedy royalty) Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant in real life have experienced the very best of the BBC, who have not only made Extras but gave them complete control over The Office despite the fact they’d never done anything at all up to that point, and they’ve both had enormous success with both series – and yet here they are taking the piss out of the hand that feeds (to mix metaphors). I’m all for the Beeb getting a good send-up from time to time, but people as fortunate as Gervais and Merchant should be taking the piss out of targets that really warrant it (i.e. – if G&M; must stay within their industry – the makers of genuine crap like Big Brother, “How Not To Clean Your Kid and Cook Your Carpet”-type guru shows and those bloody “Top 94 Lists of Lists” programmes cluttering up the schedules).
Even less deserving of a pisstake was the studio audience in the crap-sitcom-within-the-good-sitcom who had the audacity to laugh at the catchphrase that Gervais’s hapless character Andy Millman so hated. I mean, if the scene had been BBC producers overdubbing canned laughter onto said crap sitcom that would be fair game, but it’s dubious to poke fun at real people finding something funny – surely they’re not the ones at fault in this situation, yet Millman threw them a look of such condescension and disgust (which went straight over their heads) that it was hard not to feel Gervais was saying anyone who doesn’t accept his view of what comedy should be barely deserves to laugh at all. It’s clear Millman is patently undignified and desperate, but crapping on an audience – any audience – is the cheapest laugh there is, and Gervais, already a bit irritating for regularly chucking in decontextualised “shocking” lines to stop his actual audience getting too cosy, is treading on thin intertextual ice here.
AND, as much as I loved the first series, especially the cameos by the British actors, and especially Les Dennis, I got the creeping feeling from last night’s show that the whole thing is just a clever, postmodern way of poking fun at minorities, which is an even cheaper laugh no matter how much irony you dress it up in.
That said, Keith Chegwin’s brilliant turn and the “Lenny Henry” skit in last night’s episode were, admittedly, genius…