Thursday, September 21

Selling out?

Myths busted, dreams shattered, expectations undermined: just a normal night on Richey Nash's sofa.

Do you believe you can survive for days after being buried alive? How about that commonly held conviction that you can fool a breathalyser test by putting an AA battery under your tongue? Or that it’s impossible to explode a cannon made of a tree trunk? Did you say ‘Yes’ to all three? Well in that case you’d have found your world rocked to its mantle by two American geeks with glasses and ginger goatees in Mythbusters (BBC2, 7.30pm). They proved them all wrong. Shocking!

Now, lets get to an obvious flaw: the only people who have any faith in these so-called common beliefs are idiots. If you think you can survive for three days after being buried alive, then you deserve to be buried alive for three days. Most people would rather mash up their own knees.

The other two premises were equally ludicrous, almost like they were chosen as the pretence of doing stuff that teenage boys love: men doing stupid things, exploding stuff, and getting drunk. And once you accept that, it’s actually good brain-dead fun. Hooray! There was also a lightly spread layer of science, and a decent soundtrack featuring snippets of The Hives, Kings of Leon, and The White Stripes.

Then onto the serious pantomime of Dragons’ Den (BBC2, 8pm), the final episode in the series, featuring deluded wannabe entrepreneurs pushing wacky product ideas like garish pullable suitcases that children can sit on, and small advertising zeppelins. It’s great watching the five Dragons pick holes in these big business pretensions, smash dreams on the cold wooden floor.

But equally good is that at the end there’s always someone who wins the Dragons over or, in this case, two people, the inventors of a wireless machine that can monitor how much people are spending on casino machines, how long they spend there, and other interesting features. Truth be told, it made me yawn a little, but the Dragons saw pound signs and all wanted a piece of the action.

The entrepreneurial pair wanted £200,000 for 15% of their fledgling company. Duncan Bannatyne offered £200,000 for 50% but got rebuffed, before Theo Paphitis came in with a bid of £200,000 for 25%. There’s no way to make this interesting – well, unless you put it on TV – but stick with it. Theo Paphitis’ deal drove Bannatyne, Peter Jones and Richard Farley out of the bidding. But in a final twist, Deborah Meaden offered to split the deal with Paphitis. Everyone agreed and the inventors went away satisfied. What a happy ending.

Or rather it wasn’t the end, for next week they bring back idiots who got kicked out of the Den before, to see if they made a success of their ludicrous ideas. But I’m more interested in where the Den is and what it’s usually used for. Guy Ritchie films? Reservoir Dogs ear scene recreationists? Or by Sir Alan Sugar’s heavies to, err, ‘soften up’ Syed for leading his apprentice astray?

But these questions fell by the wayside as I caught the ‘difficult’ second episode in the ‘difficult’ second series of Ricky Gervais comedy Extras (BBC2, 9pm). After starting with a scene from Andy Millman’s appalling sitcom When The Whistle Blows, it seems Gervais is trying to mould himself as the British Larry David. An awkward moment where he has to give £20 to a homeless guy is second-rate Curb Your Enthusiasm, as is the time he gets friend Maggie to ask for his autograph to impress another woman. It looks to be gearing up to something good.

And then it falls flat as Gervais tries to do too much: mocking fame-obsessed members of the public, lampooning desperate celebrities who crave everyone’s love, and so on. In musical terms it’s like the directionless second album of the artist who tries to show everyone how tough it is being a star, while forgetting what it is that made them a star in the first place. Funny moments are what made Gervais famous, but now he’s famous he doesn’t want to play that game any more. Which means Extras is now a comedy without many funny moments.

Some of it reads like rehashed stand-up jokes like, when talking about Celebrity Love Island, Millman/Gervais says, “Why would I want to be on a programme that, when I watched it, I prayed for a tsunami?” It’s a quite funny stand-up one-liner, but out of place in the sitcom.

And then David Bowie comes on the scene, and makes up a song about Andy Millman being fat, talentless, and why he should commit suicide. It’s not funny, just uncomfortable.

The show seems to be saying Gervais doesn’t want to make lowest common denominator comedy that appeals to everyone. That’s fine, admirable even: there are ways to make people laugh other than resorting to dick jokes and tired catchphrases. This isn’t Little Britain.

But Extras doesn’t offer an alternative to the lowest common denominator comedy Gervais is railing against. The show doesn’t have jokes. Maybe that’s Gervais’ intention, but there’s no shame in writing a comedy that makes people laugh. And just because you make people laugh, that doesn't always mean you've sold out or compromised your principles. Even so, Extras is still an interesting watch. Not laugh-a-minute, but certainly compelling.

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