Colleen's thoughts on writing, directing and coaching, and her unique take on life itself!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Extras! Extras! See all about it!

I treated myself to viewing seasons #1 and #2 of Ricky Gervais' incredible, hilarious, Emmy-winning BBC/HBO creation, "Extras," about background, lineless actors - "extras" - and their struggles to make a living as well as get ahead in show biz as "real actors." Those who have lines.

Pictured here, the Extras core cast l-r: Ashley Jensen, Ricky Gervais, long time Gervais collaborator Stephen Merchant and Shaun Williamson.

Each episode features at least one A-level star put in the position of ridiculing themselves and their coworkers so sharply and over the top, I keep hoping that audiences actually know the megastars he casts are nothing like the characters they portray as themselves!

In the show featuring Orlando Bloom, Bloom "as himself" skewered Johnny Depp mercilessly, describing how horrendous it was to work with him and how he could not understand why people think Depp is such a great actor, making fun of his scissors props and other props his notable characters have used.

Kate Winslet as the chain-smoking naughty nun is priceless.

I do worry if the British show is a bit inside. I fall on the floor laughing at things I've seen, experienced, and know go wrong along the way working on or making a show or film, then wonder if real people in the audience understand how funny it all is because Gervais shows how just about everything *does not* work and why.

Typically, Gervais takes on all the verboten subjects in the most twisted way: racism, politics, homophobia, materialism, celebrity, classism, looksism sexism - all the "ism's," in fact, along with the usual deception, deceit, betrayal, failure, success and camp that is show biz.

One of the things I appreciate about this show in comparison to his original smash hit, The Office, is that Gervais' Extras character has a broader range of emotions, surrounded by people who don't share his depth or see themseleves realistically as he does (and despite himself ends up loving them anyway).

Unlike The Office, however, audiences were steeled for comedy when Extras hit the air. They didn't know The Office was a comedy until well into the first season. Viewers in the UK took it as a serious documentary about a typically dysfunctional office. When they realised it was a joke, they laughed long and loudly.

Suffering as his character does in every episode, we are left with the punch line of a very old joke: What? And quit show biz?

This response comes at the end of a very long story told by a circus clean-up man who follows the elephants and other animals in the parades, cleaning up after all the sick and bodily elimination in their cages, getting paid nearly nothing; worse, he's kicked around by everyone with whom he works - all of whom disrespect him.

Finally, the frustrated listener asks, "Good heavens! Why don't you get another job!?" (Review punch line.)

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

....a day at The Office

Multi-tasking, I played seasons one and two - 5 full DVD's - of the NBC-TV show The Office for many *hours* today. Time very well spent

I also watch the program live on thei air, but play DVD's or captured programs off the air to enjoy a marathon. I don't play any shows online to support the writer's strike; writers are trying to get paid for their work that plays on the internet. David Letterman's production company, Worldwide Pants, signed a new contract with the striking WGA (Writer's Guild of America) because he negotiated with the writer's union separately.

Hopefully other major production companies will also negotiate separately. WWP signed the contract that calls for exactly the same thing WGA leaders wanted to offer the studio Producers who refuse to talk with them.

Back to The Office - this program, IMO, is spectacularly written and performed. The casting is perfect, and every performer scores a *10* each time he or she appears.

Lead Steve Carell. playing boss Michael Scott, is a brilliant actor; Melora Hardin (along with her two outstanding, well-rounded, air-brushed co-stars) is spot on as his foil - playing his sometime squeeze Jan Levenson.

Jenna Fischer is a deceptively fine actor - I can see her star rising because of her excellent, nuanced performance here as receptionist Pam Beesly. The key to a long career for her is to do drama and comedy - and smart comedy at that. She can do it all - and should.

John Krasinski stars as affable Jim Halpert. Also a fine performer, he must be careful of being in low comedy duds like License to Wed. Just because a film features Robin Williams does not a quality project make. Much better to take roles that challenge him so he can show casting agents the full range of what he's capable of doing than doing roles he can simply call in.

The phenomenal, scene-stealing Rainn Wilson is hysterical as the dysfunctional control freak Dwight Schrute. Wilson's career is going the distance because he has chosen such an array of roles, indie and studio, over the past few years, to complement his great work in The Office. This highly disciplined actor can do *anything.*

As I say, each actor on the show deserves an individual mention here - but space must be considered. But on the show, in fact, each performer's talent and skill are so impacting that each of them is isolated with a close up for their scenes, thanks to the "documentary camera" production technique established by the genius of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant for the original BBC series.

The Office was developed for American television by Greg Daniels. Daniels did a profound job; being an ardent fan of the original British series, I was not sure the show could be properly translated for American audiences. In fact, in its own way, the American series has turned out to be a cut above the original.

As the sun sets, with several tasks accomplished along with sharing a day full of humor, social commentary and characters of The Office? I'm ready to do it all over again the next chance I get!

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