I downloaded the first two episodes of Ricky Gervais' new "sitcom" and watched 'em. It's really hard to watch Extras and not compare it to The Office, but I'm a man of exquisite talent, and am thus able to.
Extras is a great show. Ricky plays Andy Millman, a guy who considers himself 'an acTOR' even though he's only ever had roles in film and television as non-speaking extras. Each episode, so far and I assume will continue as such, finds him in yet another production. His main goal each time is to acquire a line in the production and the episode casually follows his attempts to cajole someone of import in terms of the production to get him a line.
He has a female friend, Maggie Jacobs (played by Ashley Jensen) who is also an extra, but her main goal each episode seems to be to find a successful person to marry. She is supposed to be a rather dim-bulb and Jensen plays her as wonderfully dense yet likable. Together, they make a great team and take turns tossing off some really funny lines.
Ricky is great at creating characters you simutaneously like and loathe. Andy Millman is not David Brent (there goes my self-declared "exquisite talent" credibility), but they do share some similarities. The world doesn't revolve around Millman as it did around Brent. Whenever David Brent was on screen, he was the centre of attention. In Extras, Andy Millman in rarely the centre of attention, just like a good extra should never be. In many of the scenes so far, he is on the fringe, trying to bask in the glow of the "talent" that he tries to associate with on the set. Gervais does this brilliantly and it's really a pleasure to watch him. Only when he is alone with Maggie, or with the whomever he's trying to get to get him a line, does his more Brent-like insenstivity and selfishness come out.
A difference between this series and The Office seems to be that this series, so far, doesn't seem to have any episodic arc like The Office did. Each episode of Extras seems to be more of a stand-alone piece. This is neither good nor bad, it just is.
Each episode seems to involve a guest appearance by someone famous. First episode had Ben Stiller playing himself (a wonderfully serious and rather egotistical version of himself) as the director of a "serious" film about a Bosnian tragedy. The second episode had another Somebody (a British somebody I assume, one I wasn't acquainted with) playing himself as an actor in a Napoleonic period TV series. I was worried at first when I heard there'd be guest appearances each episode, worried that they'd not be able to pull off the subtlety sometime required to play themselves in a comedic way. So far, those fears were ill-founded because the casting and writing and performances have been great.
That's enough. It's a great show, and well worth seeking out the weekly bittorrents.