TV criticism courtesy of Barney:
The second series of "Extras" started tonight on BBC2 and I was slightly disappointed, although partly this is due to a very specific (and idiosyncratic) hope I had for the show which wasn't quite fulfilled.
This is going to sound totally ridiculous, but when watching the final episode of the previous series last year I got very excited about Andy (the Ricky Gervais character)'s idea for a sitcom set in an office featuring a northern boss called Ray whose catchphrase is, "You 'avin a laff?" Mainly because this Ray guy struck me as potentially being a very amusing parody of an extremely annoying manager where I work... and I was hoping that if the catchphrase made it out into wider currency as a result of a successful portrayal (by Gervais himself) during the second series, then it would be possible gradually to undermine this guy - let's call him Dave - by pointing out to as many people as possible the resemblance between Ray, from Extras, and Dave, from the real office. Within a few months, Dave would have lost it completely, and the office environment would have taken a turn for the better...
But sadly, the 'real-life' version of Ray doesn't measure up to what I had in my head. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant have created a sitcom-within-a-sitcom (When the Whistle Blows) that makes your average 70s ITV comedy look like Fawlty Towers. It's simply too bad to be believable. The Ray character is unusable for workplace satire because he's unusable for anything; in the same way that there has never been a successful comedy skit on Midge Ure (to pick a fairly random example from the 80s), because he's just too shit to bother with. And the final 5 minutes of Extras, which showed the audience recording of When the Whistle Blows, were excruciating.
That's not to say that there weren't funny moments. Most of them (and how unlikely is this?) were from Keith Chegwin (playing a cross between himself and Nick Griffin from the BNP, as far as I could make out) and Sean Williamson (aka Barry from Eastenders) who was brilliant in the last series and was still brilliant here. Orlando Bloom's turn as a narcissist who hates Johnny Depp was quite good but lacked the bizarre personality twists that made the best cameos of the last series - Ross Kemp and Patrick Stewart, for instance - watchable; it was just a bit too obvious.
Anyway, it was good, but not great. And I'm sure once they can get past the problem of basing a comedy around a sitcom pilot that is meant to be disastrously unfunny, it'll be great again. Meanwhile, I'll have to find another way to take 'Dave' down a peg.