Make Believe and Mortifying Embarrassment on HBO's Extras

Seriously, last night's episode of Extras may have been the most painfully funny episode of television since the original run of Ricky Gervais' The Office ... with an emphasis on the painful part of that equation.

So, what new embarrassments did last night's episode, the fifth in the second season, bring us? There was the impromptu appearance of a former classmate of Andy's (played by guest star Jonathan Cake) who was blessed with the uncanny ability to chat up any woman effortlessly, leading Andy to try to steal his routine, involving the casual tossing and opening of a water bottle. Which would have been fine except for the fact that the bottle Andy grabbed was sparking water. The damned thing exploded in his hands and he stupidly, inanely, shoved the thing in his mouth. Yep, Andy, I am sure that woman will never forget you.

Meanwhile, Andy's hit BBC1 sitcom When the Whistle Blows continues its assault on the intelligence of Britons, and he's taken to task by several critics for the inherent misogyny of the show but more for the fact that the series, even with its wigs, funny glasses, and catchphrases, is horrifically written. (This following on the heels of last week's cringe-worthy moment when Andy, Darren and Maggie accidentally break up a eulogy delivered by actor Richard Briers -- Monarch of the Glen's much missed Hector -- at the BAFTA awards, thanks to a talking Ray doll that won't stop uttering that ridiculous catchphrase, "Are you having a laugh?")

Sir Ian McKellen shows up to skewer himself this week, and the knight of the realm is a great sport about it, chatting to Andy about how it is that he's such a great actor. Hint: it involves "pretending" to be the character and the dialogue comes from the script he's given. McKellen ends up casting Andy as one of the leads in a new play he's directing (Andy's trying to gain back some credibility in the acting world), but Andy's cast as one half of a gay couple. Leading to all sorts of uneasiness on Andy's part, especially when his old school chums show up on opening night and Andy decides he's not going to do the kiss that McKellen sprang on him five minutes before curtain. The result is truly train-wreck television as Andy breaks character, warns his costar that he will pop him one if he tries to kiss him, and attempts to leave the stage ... all in front of a live audience.

But the piece de resistance, as it were, is the completely awkward date between Ashley Jensen's Maggie and Stephen Merchant's Darren. After using Andy's classmate's trick of asking a girl out, he successfully scores a date with Maggie and invites her over to his apartment for dinner. But somehow these two dopes manage to hit it off with one another; Darren makes a delicious meal, the food is great, the conversation better, and the wine keeps flowing. That is, until the water in the lavatory stops flowing. Darren's next move is so painful to watch, so hilariously awkward, that it becomes the pinnacle of embarrassment in a series that filled with them. I can't do the scene justice in words but it needs, nay demands, to be seen. All I will say is that the sight of Maggie slinking off after Darren has produced a whisk and a plastic bag will forever remain with me.

It truly affirms the fact that writers Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant have their fingers on the pulse of what makes the audience uncomfortable, squeamish, and sympathetic, sometimes all at the same time. Consider them virtuosos of painful hilarity.

There's only one episode of Extras left and it looks to be a corker of an episode. Gervais, meanwhile, seems cagey about the possibility of another season of Extras, but I'd urge him to reconsider his hesitation. After all, twelve episodes (nearly the same amount, not including the Christmas Specials, as The Office's run) is not enough time to spend with these lovable loons. Here's to hoping that Gervais and Merchant eventually come round and bring the audience what we want: more humiliation for Andy, Maggie, and Co. If nothing else, it reminds us that our own lives are at least not that embarrassing after all.

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Jace is an LA-based television development and acquisitions junior exec who watches way too much television for his own good and would love a TiVo for every room in the house. (He’s halfway there.) His blog, Televisionary, can be found at televisionary.blogspot.com.