There's something so ironic about Ricky Gervais and the brilliant series Extras, the show that skewered the very nature of fame by allowing such celebrities as Patrick Stewart, Kate Winslet, Samuel L. Jackson and Ian McKellen to skewer themselves in ways that were altogether funny and wholly unflattering.
The show was all about the addictive quality of fame and whether celebrity, in and of itself, is worth one's dignity. The litmus test was Andy Millman (Gervais), a onetime movie extra who, by the end of the series' 12 episodes, had developed When the Whistle Blows, a terribly lowbrow hit sitcom that made him famous at the cost of his own self-worth. Still, by the time the finale comes about, Andy's become accustomed to fame and his own self-importance, even though it might cost him his best friend, Maggie (the amazing Ashley Jensen) and his loyal agent (show co-creator Stephen Merchant).
Not unlike many minor celebrities, Andy eventually ends up on Celebrity Big Brother (the original U.K. version of The Surreal Life), where he is forced to come to terms with his own level of fame. Sure, the guest spots from Clive Owen and George Michael (who's trolling for casual sex in a park) are hysterical, but it's Andy's final realization that escalates Extras, tying the awkward and humorous and satirical to the tragedy of living in the public eye in a way that is rarely seen on either the small or big screen.
Of course, it's ironic that these days Gervais has made his way to Hollywood, where he does bit parts in films, barely scratching the surface of what he accomplished with Extras and the British version of The Office. Still, for those who crave fame, the final episode of Extras—which airs at 9 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 16, on HBO—might be enough to scare them straight.