As they did with The Office, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant are using the holidays as an excuse to wrap up Extras with a feature-length special that offers a more satisfying conclusion than that provided by the last episode of the series. Until its concluding minutes, however, the Extras finale is much darker and more depressing than what preceded it—indeed, it just might qualify as one of the most cynical depictions of show business in any screen medium.
As in the second season, the focus is on the success that Andy Millman (Gervais) achieves as creator and costar of When the Whistle Blows, a lowest-common-denomenator sitcom overflowing with trite catchphrases. Andy longs to be recognized as a “real artist,” but at the same time he’s addicted to the fame and perks attached to the series he’s come to hate. Hoping to break out of the cycle, he finally fires his idiot agent (Merchant) and signs on with the much slicker Tre Cooper (Adam James), a rep whose bluster exacerbates Andy’s creative schizophrenia. Meanwhile, Andy’s friend Maggie (Ashley Jensen) spirals downward after learning the hard way that the industry has little use for women who haven’t made it by a certain age.
The special unapologetically caters to U.K. viewers over Gervais’s American fans: Of the celebs who appear as themselves, only George Michael, Clive Owen and Gordon Ramsay (all of whom play themselves as total assholes) are vaguely well-known on this side of the pond. Still, appreciating Gervais’s withering attack on those who’ll do anything for exposure doesn’t require recognizing anyone who appears alongside Andy on Celebrity Big Brother. It occasionally seems like Gervais is shooting at an easy target, but this is a case where the ammunition is more noteworthy than the mark.