How much of life is an act? While buddies Andy Millman (Ricky Gervais) and Maggie Jacobs (Ashley Jensen) make money pretending for a living as extras, their lives are also a form of acting. As the show navigates their triumphs and pitfalls together while they work alongside famous actors such as Kate Winslet, Ben Stiller, Patrick Stewart and Samuel L. Jackson, it demonstrates how they continue acting after the camera stops.
Andy insists that unlike the rest of the extras, he is a proper actor just waiting to get that breakthrough, doing extras work to network and get more exposure. However, without a real line to his name, his status as an actor is essential an act, a way for him to pretend to be superior and more important than the people around him, a way to distinguish him from everyone else and stand as an individual.
Maggie harbors fears of being seen as prejudice. She’s not bigoted, but more superficial, especially about men. When she worries that she might be blowing it with a man, she quickly turns to Andy for advice and then tries to act this advice out in her own life instead of simply being frank and honest about her misgivings. The result is usually hilarious because she ends up expressing it in the most awkward way possible.
Therefore, the show is an examination of how social norms and the formation of a social identity are acts. How we behave is not always who we are, but who we pretend to be in order to distinguish ourselves from others and gain acceptance and validation from other people by acting as if we are in the same social group.
For example, in one episode Andy pretends that he’s religious. It begins as a white lie when a woman with cerebral palsy asks him if he believes in God, but becomes more elaborate when a woman he fancies invites him to a get-together that ends up being a Catholic support group. When he confesses he only pretended to get in her pants, he unveils the sinister nature of how pretending to be someone he isn’t is ultimately harmful and ugly.
Extras belongs in the tier of highest comedies, one that does not simply make jokes, but one that finds humor by examining the world in which we live in and seeing the humor in the constructs that make up that world. It not only makes one laugh at the humor, but also ponder at how there is something ridiculous and silly about how much of life is an act based on rules. In a sense, the show is about how we’re all extras pretending we’re far more important that we actually are.
© 2014 James Blake Ewing