DARREN BEVAN previews Series 2 of “Extras”, premiering on Prime this coming Monday.

LAST TIME we saw Ricky Gervais’ bumbling extra Andy Millman, he’d managed to secure himself a BBC Sitcom – despite overwhelming odds in the shape of his blundering agent Darren Lamb (Stephen Merchant) and hapless naif of a friend Maggie (Ashley Jensen). But Andy’s about to learn everything comes at a price – and you need to be careful of what you wish for.

Gervais and Merchant’s take on a celebrity-obsessed British society is at times harsh, yet at every turn, viciously honest. Millman longs to be famous after years of obscurity as an extra struggling to get a line, but learns the hard way he has to sell out his dreams to make it. His sitcom, based on Millman’s days as a factory worker, is supposed to demonstrate the soul-destroying nature of the proletariat’s place in life. But under the BBC’s regime, the comedy’s been turned into a catchphrase ridden mess-of-a-show, pandering only to the type of audiences who for years have been weaned on the likes of The Fast Show and Little Britain’s repetitive comic slogans and weekly stock scenes. However, the show is unbelievably a hit with 6 million (fictional) TV viewers, despite a savage mauling within the British press.

One of the scenes which sums up Millman’s desperate quest to dazzle and impress his peers is the day after the first show goes out. His agent receives the tabloid reviews of the overnight screening and reveals the show’s been panned, but assures Andy not to worry – one paper was the exception. Andy’s hopes are cruelly dashed when he learns the agent’s delight is because the paper chose not to review the show.

It’s this thrust into celebrity which fuels Andy’s tragic comic turn and pushes him into situations where he seems intent on humiliating himself. Andy now finds his faux pas are played out in the full glare of the media. Everyone knows who he is, from the tabloids to the beggar at the end of the street. Andy even allows himself to be coaxed out of 20 pounds, for fear of what the public will think of him for not giving to the homeless. It’s these kind of excruciations are a common occurrence in Series 2 – reason why, perhaps, the series feels at times like it’s floundering.

Gervais’ early interplay in the series with Maggie – played so wonderfully by Ashley Jensen – continues to remind viewers of the type of relationship Laurel and Hardy had; right down to Gervais’ facial gurnings and protestations which are deadpan Oliver Hardy. But a beefed up role for the agent Lamb this series comes at the Maggie’s expense, who appears now surplus to requirements; relegated to the background, she resurfaces only occasionally to remind Millman who and what he was. That’s not to say the idiocy of the agent doesn’t adequately fill the role and screen time – it’s just with greater irony that Maggie is reduced to a cameo, and is so much more of a loss.

Speaking of cameos, Extras’ guest stars continue to jump at the opportunity to either humiliate themselves, or reinvent their perception within the media sphere. Appearing as himself, David Bowie mocks Millman with a merciless singalong, having just listened to an outpouring of the former-extra’s greatest fears about selling out. It’s in these moments when Gervais really shines, and you being to really empathise for a guy whose worst fears have been realised; a man who always seems on the brink of a nervous break down. But then you couple those moments with the behaviour of a man who simply gets into scrapes for the sake of a good joke, and it feels hollow.

Other highlights include Chris Martin whose turn promoting the plight of the starving sees him outragrously demand his backdrop be Coldplay’s upcoming greatest hits album – not the dying children. His further response is brutal, asking the director if those children can be holding the new album, thus eschewing every opinion of the man who continually pushes for Fair Trade wherever he goes. Daniel Radcliffe does his best to shake the post-Potter blues as a sex obsessed version of himself, who has in his own words, “done it, y’know, intercourse-wise with a woman.”

After six episodes, Extras draws to a close in a wonderfully oblique way as the entire dynamic threatens to change – but for the viewer, it’s more a feeling of relief that creators Gervais and Merchant have decided to bring the curtain down on Millman and pals after twelve installments. There doesn’t seem to be anywhere else for the team to go – and while we’re promised a special to wrap it up, you have to wonder if it’ll simply be a retread of former glories and stars desperate to appear in the last ever episode.