Sunday, October 01, 2006

today : I watch some more TV about TV

I like Ricky Gervais. He's a likeable guy. But, like almost everyone in the world these days, he is a victim of hype. The Office was an enjoyable comedy. But not the best of all time so many people seem to believe (Colplay's latest album is good, I think, in the same way). It was too cynical and downbeat. And that, of course, is the reason why it was so critically feted - it matched the fashionable obsession with downbeatness and darkness that makes critics wet their pants.

The problem with it was the same problem that crops up in Extras - Gervais's follow-up. The characters are not likeable enough. The classic characters of British pathos comedy were plucky failures. Mainwaring and his pomposity which masked the small-mindedness of the provinical bank manager, was always undercut by the dapper cynicism of Wilson or the puppy-like impetuousness of Pike. Fawlty was not a full-blown monster, but a full-blown frustrated failure. The same goes for the Steptoes, The Hi-de-Hi yellowcoats, Hancock, Martyn Bryce and Margot Leadbetter. Even when they were at their most petty we could see flashes of stoic self-awareness. They were, at their heart, sympathetic because they knew what they were.

The closest thing to Gervais's comedy of embarrassment is Larry David's 'Larry David' character. Yet even he is sympathetic in some respects. He causes endless, painful trouble for himself by often doing what we all want to do - stand up to or simply reject the fakery of social rules. 'Larry' refuses to be bullied by etiquette. Yet he is loyal to his friends, successful at his work and loving to his wife. he has redeeming features.

In Extras, Andy and Maggie are terminally self-obsessed, terminally thick AND terminally socially dyslexic. Andy's agent is a moron with no redeeming features and most everyone else in the world of TV and film is vain, stupid, narcissistic and generally appalling. In the latest episode of Extras Maggie casually tells the glamorous wife of a dwarf actor the disparaging remarks that Andy, her best friend, has made about them. In the previous episode when Andy gets Maggie to pretend to be a fan in order to impress another woman, Maggie's stupidity is predictable and amusing. She gives the game away accidentally. Yet blithe indiscretion is not an endearing trait. This is not the stuff you accidentally tell. The plot creaks.

Creaking is also heard loudly when Andy's agent and Barry from Eastenders refuse to disbelieve the tabloids regarding Andy's incident in the restaurant. This just doesn't ring true - that even the most idiotic people cannot draw a simple line between their own previous experience and current events. Then when, unbeknownst to Andy, the agent appears on Richard and Judy trying to defend Andy but behaving in the most politically incorrect way imaginable, the creak becomes a snap. Too late - the plot becomes contrived, almost as if it was fitted around the appearance of Richard and Judy and the desperation of everyone in TV to get in on the act. It reminded me of The Player, where whole scenes were built around Hollywood types performing self deprecating cameos to the detriment of the film itself.

As with Studio 60, I am wary of the fact that the show is TV about TV. The show purports to undermine the cult of the celebrity by portraying real celebs as shallow, pointless fools. Yet its very basis lies in a perpetuation of the celebrity culture it claims to deride. And I don't feel sorry for any of the characters. They are losers just like Martin or Mainwaring or Hancock, yet they are losers because they are superficial tossers at heart, rather than heroic failures struggling gamely through the shit that life has served them.

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