Friday, September 22, 2006

Ricky Is Funnier Than You - FACT

Are you black? Are you British? Then Ricky Gervais is funnier than you.

Sorry about that.

The second series of Extras kicked off with mostly repeats of - okay, quite funny - jokes from the first series. "Oh, the famous - they can be quite conceited! And insecure! They're just how we think they are when we read Heat! How hilarious!" Followed by the old, standard, "He didn't really just say that, did he?" thing.

Most of which is apparently not offensive so long as Gervais - who wrote the lines in the first place - looks shocked.

Now, hey, lazy writing and weak satire are fine. I'm not offended (much) by either. But when, towards the end of the first episode, Gervais' "character" Andy was asked to think of funny, black, British comedians...well, something else loomed large.

So, he couldn't think of a single one. Apparently Gervais - who (FACT) is funny - is, by extension, better than an entire segment of the UK population. Lovely.

Then his character looks at the Lenny Henry picture on the wall. And refuses to take the example. Hilarity ensues.

Because Gervais - being (FACT) funny - is able to stomp all over that career straight away. Forget how bloody hilarious he used to be, how charismatic he still is. I'm no big Henry fan, but come the hell on.

Oh, and if you like 'regular' sitcoms, you're a moron. A TV drone. Ever found a catchphrase funny? Ditto. Formular comedy? Well, I'll get on to that...

Episode two was marred not by some serious imbalance of tone, but rather by simply by not being very funny.

Gervais is now playing a version of himself so closely that entire scenes go past without a line of dialogue that feels like 'Andy'. The scripts are marginalising his female co-star (who's still actually funny, playing a full-fledged 'character'...even if she is, by default, also playing 'dim woman') in favour of a storyline about how Andy's sitcom has been ruined by the BBC.

An odd one this, because not only did it not happen to The Office, despite the implications that it could have (how?), it's generally hard to take no blame for a comedy series that's not funny when you're the writer and star.

Worst of all, everything being lampooned - on-the-nose punchlines and formular - are every bit a present in Extras as they are in his com-within-a-com. Every week we visit the agent, the agent's crap, Barry from Eastenders turns's actually decent stuff, this, but don't pretend it's any different from Basil hitting Manuel every week.

Take this line, about Andy's recent TV success: "Oh, and Sky called." "Yeah?" "Yeah, they said they can put up your dish next Thursday."

It's a fine enough joke. But it IS a joke. It's a sit-com gag. It plays exactly the same way in My Family. Deal with it.

Ignoring, then, that we have a ego in place of a character at this point. That we've just had an entire episode that ground along painfully (oh, the agony of the 'giving money to the homeless guy' scene. On and on it went, not funny, just exhausting) using the same old schtick. The most aggravating thing is how...this 'better than you' attitude is really making the show unpleasant to watch.

'Andy' looks at the sitcom-loving studio audience with contempt. Why? Because they love TV comedy? Bastards. Who does he think his audience is? Just because they're not in the room when he films, doesn't change anything.

It's an ego in overdrive. A deluded opinion that 'realism' is a finite, definitive thing. The thing that sets his shows apart from those of mere mortals. It's not.

Anything 'realistic' is just dressed up in a style, same as any other. And that style dates like the others. Brando in Streetcar? Stylised as hell to watch now, but back then it was seen as the pinnacle of naturalism. Not that it matters, if the thing's GOOD.

Extras in 20 years' time? One good series, followed by sluggish, indulgent content and ego that pronounced itself better than anyone else...WITHIN the dialogue of the show.

I'm constantly short of time at the moment, so with that off my chest I have to fly. But if you want something funny, wait until Extras has finished and watch Mitchell and Webb - which actually IS.


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