Ricky Gervais is a genius.
I have said this many times before, but I don't think this will ever go untrue. An old friend, Jason, originally showed me his work from The Office my freshman year of college. At the time, I remember thinking of how sad the show was, and how awkward. It made my stomach uncomfortable to see how these characters interacted with what I considered to be normal--except that none of the characters really were.
But it wasn't until Extras came out that I really began to see how much Ricky was going to effect my life.
Extras is probably my secret go-to series. Futurama is the one I watch religiously; I am most avid about watching The Avatar Series live while taping it for later; Doctor Who has made it's mark; Joss Whedon has my loyalty forever. However, it's Extras that, whenever someone asks me to watch a show, it's on the tip of my tongue to suggest.
I find it needs to have a special crowd to enjoy it. People think that sci-fi and fantasy needs a special crowd, but it has become more common and accepted over these past few years, and easier to get a watch out of. Many shows have gone generalized to get as many ratings as possible. I don't blame them, as this is what will get them the cash to continue, but this is where Extras shines.
For starters, the show is filled with parallels. The show is about extras, the people who mill behind the "real" actors/actresses, and their struggles to make it big--and the guest star is played almost as an extra for the show. Andy (played by Ricky) has an imbecile of an agent (Stephen Merchant, co-genius), and his best friend, Maggie, plays the endearing clueless friend, who is also an extra.
What Ricky does best is relationships. He has this way of writing characters as real life, even if the content seems extremely improbable. As most British humor, it's not just what is said, but it's also what isn't said, with body language and facial expressions. All of it seems so natural, you feel like you're experiencing it first hand.
This is also the first show that I've ever watched that has the best ending to a series ever. If the British do anything perfect in television, it's knowing when to stop a series before it becomes a blackened piece of steak on the grill. The Christmas Special that ensued as the ending has me in tears every time, from both laughter and empathy.
American television is usually different from other countries in this respect. It's not that I don't enjoy it, but writers and directors tend to shy away from an ending that shows the true picture. The ending could be sad, yes, but it's usually because of something that is completely out of the character's control, like the death of a loved one, or incredibly dramatic, like they killed the loved one.
What I love most about Extras is how they show the normality of what Hollywood most likely is. The glorified aspects, what we have placed on a pedestal--it's not what it seems. Given, the guest stars on the show are the finest of sports in playing the opposite of their personalities for humor purposes, but it brings about the point all the same: we're all human.
Relationships in this show are abundant. After watching a few episodes, where I am in life is forefront. I begin to interrogate myself.
Am I doing what makes me happy? Am I treating people as I wish to be treated? Am I taking myself too seriously, and should I become more or less of an adult? Is my dream something I can achieve my way?
When I begin to question myself, I know I'm on the right path. There is nothing wrong with me making sure that my values and morals are up to my standards, or if I need to change because I have become wiser. And I start to see my own parallels with the show. How I begin to feel like an extra in my own life, even, despite me being the star. And who goes from being a leading role to an extra so fast, I don't even realize it.
Jason, who first introduced me to Ricky Gervais, was a man who easily made a good portion of how I work today. He was always finding niche films and video games, burning me music I enjoyed immensely but never heard of. I took it all for granted, him teaching me to enjoy the most bizarre things, and I give him credit for me being able to do that today. It wasn't that I didn't already find the unique, but he opened a curtain of possibilities I thought only held what I'd already seen. I take more chances on books with covers easily judged, to say the least. And I haven't seen him since the end of that year.
When I was four years old, I was positive that Josh was going to be my bestest friend for the rest of my life. We did everything together, from swinging on tires to pretending we were pirates on a safety raft. I remember that I'd always make my father change the names of a particular book about a girl and boy who were best friends to our names whenever he'd read it to me. I was devastated when we moved, and swore to never forget. I'm ashamed to say that it took me quite some time to realize I hadn't thought of him after the first couple of months in our new house.
The friends I was so close knit with in high school I don't even keep in touch with, nowadays.
People mill in and out of our lives. Speaking to Rose, a new friend of mine, I brought about how rampant emotions can be about something so natural. Pangs of memories from past relationships, friendship or otherwise, seem doomed to mingle their way into our heads and make us doubt what truths we already claim for ourselves. It's not just how we may have handled a situation, but it's the curiosity of whether we've changed for the better from these events. We feel guilty, as if the lesson wasn't properly learned. Sometimes, we create our own self-fulfilling prophecies, good and bad.
I think this is why I enjoy the end of the Extras finale so much. In every episode, although enjoyable, we see Andy slowly but surely dig a hole for himself as he seeks to gain his goal of being rich and famous. In the process of talking about having integrity and not being a sellout, he becomes what he hates. We see in these quiet sections these moments of clarity he has, as if he's watching himself. And he can't stop.
It's like watching a horror film, except it's all metaphorical (you can come up with the phrases yourself).
And he makes this decision that no one seems to understand--the right decision.
It's simply phenomenal. Every bit of it. And it only takes 13 episodes to get there.