A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this British series comes from the folks behind the original version of The Office. And although this show's setting and characters are very different, the general flavor of the humor remains the same, relying on awkward pauses and mortifying faux pas for laughs. Main character Andy is often selfish and self-serving, and issues like racism and physical disability are used for joke fodder (which mature folks will understand as ironic, but which the younger set may misinterpret). Characters swear casually and frequently (though this is no Deadwood), drink and smoke, and talk about sex (though very little of the latter is actually shown). Recognizable Hollywood stars guest-star as themselves, gleefully mocking their public personas.
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What's the story?
EXTRAS (a co-production of HBO and the BBC) follows Andy Millman's (Ricky Gervais) misadventures in showbiz. A bit player who spends more time sitting around shooting the breeze with his friend Maggie (Ashley Jensen) than he does in front of the camera, Andy is angling for his big break -- which he's probably going to have to get on his own, since his clueless agent, Darren Lamb (Office co-creator Stephen Merchant), is no help at all. So whenever he gets the chance between takes, Andy hits up big-name stars for lines in their movies, help getting his sitcom script distributed, or whatever other favor he can think of. That these celebrities play themselves -- usually with a self-mocking twist -- is one of the series' key gimmicks. Particularly memorable guest-star turns include Kate Winslet candidly advising Maggie on phone sex, Patrick Stewart enthusiastically describing his nudity-heavy script to Andy, and Orlando Bloom sending up his own pretty-boy reputation.
Is it any good?
The meat and potatoes of Extras are the socially awkward moments that Andy and Maggie are constantly stumbling into, usually by accident (as when they unknowingly mock a woman with cerebral palsy), but always with a maximum of embarrassment. No subject is taboo, from racism to disability, and the characters often do rude, selfish things (Andy berating and belittling a lonely man who wants to have dinner with him, for instance) in the name of comedy. This brand of painful humor certainly isn't for everyone, and Extras' colorful language and adult situations rule it out for kids.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether they find this kind of purposely cringe-inducing humor funny. What's the point of this kind of comedy? Is it more realistic/telling than traditional sitcom humor? How is this series like The Office? How is it different? Why do you think the guest stars wanted to participate? Do you think the show's versions of these people are any more accurate than their "regular" public personas? Also, is it OK to do and say things that are generally considered offensive in the name of comedy? When would you say TV writers have crossed the line? Is that line different for cable and network shows? Should it be?