Pair of Gervais series pack hefty sitcom punch


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WE don't often use this space to write about TV shows that have been seen before, but in this case, we're dealing with a couple of repeats whose names bear repeating.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/05/2009 (5073 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

WE don’t often use this space to write about TV shows that have been seen before, but in this case, we’re dealing with a couple of repeats whose names bear repeating.

Comedy Network is pairing the original Brit/ BBC version of The Office with the BBC/HBO series Extras and launching some­thing called Ricky Gervais Sunday Nights (premier­ing tonight at midnight), and it’s pretty safe to say that there’s never been a more bril­liantly uncomfortable way to wrap up your weekend.

In case you’ve never seen one or both of Gervais’ relatively short-run TV projects (and that’s entirely likely, given the somewhat limited distribu­tion they received in this country), here’s a quick rundown of what you’ve missed and what you really do need to see:

The Office, which was created by Gervais and partner Stephen Merchant and aired for just two six-episode seasons (plus a sequel-ish two-part Christmas special) on the BBC, was an instant comedy smash in Britain and served as the blueprint for at least a half-dozen international adaptations (including NBC’s hit U.S. version, French, German, Chilean and Russian spinoffs and even a French-Canadian interpretation, La Job).

Set in the Slough branch of Wernham Hogg paper merchants, The Office places the crushing daily nothingness of cubicle existence under the micro­scope and reveals plenty of curious and inappropriate behaviour — mostly on the part of aforementioned branch manager Brent, who fancies himself a gifted supervisor and an undiscovered comic genius but is so far from being either that his ridiculous antics some­times become painful to watch.

Also inhabiting the Wernham Hogg space are Brent’s right-hand man, the status-obsessed and B.S.-inclined Gareth Keenan (Mackenzie Crook) and budding office romantics Tim Canter­bury and Dawn Tinsley (Martin Free­man, Lucy Davis), the U.K. inspirations for Dwight Schrute, Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly, respectively.

The Brit version and its U.S. counter­part obviously have a lot in common, but what you’ll find if you’re checking out the BBC’s Office is a show that is, if anything, even more cringe-inducing than the NBC version. The pace is more subdued, the silences more frequent and awkward, and Gervais’ portrayal of David Brent has a level of creepiness to it that is uniquely and oddly seductive.

But if you think David Brent is weird, well, wait’ll you get a glimpse of Extras’ Andy Millman. Gervais’ second comedy-series creation, a more or less talentless actor who ekes out a pathetic existence as a "background" player in various English film produc­tions.

He and his friend and fellow extra Maggie Jacobs (Ashley Jensen) are so far beyond socially inappropriate that it’s actually quite stunning; at times, you’re bound to find yourself laughing out loud at their behaviour but feeling that it’s just so very, very wrong to be doing so.

As good as Gervais and Jensen are, however, the real genius of Extras lies in the fact Gervais and Merchant (who also appears in this series as Andy’s clueless agent, Darren Lamb) were able to convince an impressive roster of real-life A-list stars to appear in the series playing rather noxious semi­fictional versions of themselves.

Of particular note are Ben Stiller’s contribution to the series premiere (as the director of a decidedly non-comed­ic Balkan-War movie), Kate Winslet’s turn in Episode 3 (her perspective on what it takes to win an Oscar will seem even funnier now that she’s won one) and Daniel Radcliffe’s appearance in Season 2 (it turns out Harry Potter’s a bit of a skirt-chasing hound).

They’ll make you wince and shud­der as often as they make you laugh out loud, but The Office and Extras are as formidable as any one-two sitcom punch as you’ll ever encounter on the tube.


Carlin, reconsidered: Comedy net­work has come up with another double­header worth noting, this time in the form of a pair of standup specials that bookend the career of comedy legend George Carlin. The first, which BBC Worldwide airs BBC Worldwide next Saturday at midnight, is the 1977 event George Carlin: On Location at USC, the first of 14 live-performance specials he did for the U.S. cable network, and the second, George Carlin: It’s Bad For Ya (which airs May 16 at midnight), is the 2008 show that was his final HBO effort.

It’s fascinating to watch how far Carlin’s comedy evolved, and grati­fying to see that his brilliance as an observer of pop culture and a crafter of complex comedy concepts remained undiminished.

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