by Ryland Walker Knight
It's kind of shocking how effective both of the Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant series-ending Christmas Specials are. Especially this one, which teeters on maudlin throughout. When it comes down to it, they tell fairly simple stories -- stories that have been heard or read or seen before -- but they do it with passion. Their commitment is unflagging, too. This Extras finale is kind of a chore to watch as, again and again, the humor exploits that bleak and uncomfortable pathos that the second season of The Office so perfected. That scene with Clive Owen just keeps on going! But it's still funny, somehow. And then there's this climactic monologue. The humility is genuinely touching. I guess part of its success is due to the weight of the bleak situations, and its kind of standard dramatic structure, but regardless of the seen-it, done-it quotient, the scene hits. What's weird is that it's the same argument as their Comic Relief 2007 sketch, except that was pure comedy. Weirder still is my inclination to say that this series finale is "better" than the sketch. Part of it could be that with that much irony condensed into eight minutes, the piece gets grating. But maybe the reason the monologue worked for me is because I'm actually indulging some of those messy yuletide emotions I keep hearing about, and avoiding. Basically, I'm glad I stuck with the thing because the payoff is worth it. You almost believe it's Ricky Gervais being honest. Funny that should come in a film, not an interview. But then again maybe it's the correct thing. Maybe he really is a genius. A snub nose little fat man genius with quite a cackle for a laugh. But, hey, maybe Stephen Merchant is the genius.
[That's what friends are for.]