In my continual effort to never watch a new television show ever, I took to Netflix to watch Extras recently. It’s been great to relive the series that Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant created after The Office had become such a huge success. Extras was the potentially dangerous second album that just wouldn’t live up to its predecessor. Thankfully it was a great follow up even if it lacked the edge that made The Office so great. Of course, re-watching any series always brings up the question of favourites. So I spent much of my time watching trying to decide which episode that I loved the most. I’ve always thought that Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and David Bowie were my favourite guest stars because they were all so fucking funny. Although, in terms of whole episode I don’t think they all stand up as well as this one.
Looking at it now the Kate Winslet episode of Extras holds an even greater significance thanks to her line “If you do a film about the Holocaust, you’re guaranteed an Oscar.” A few years after she spouted these words Winslet won her first Academy Award for The Reader. So, if it goes to show nothing else it’s that Ricky Gervais understands the politics behind Award season and Kate Winslet’s career choices better than we could ever have imagined. I’m not trying to suggest that Gervais is prophetic but if you wanted to present evidence to justify that claim you’d want to start here.
Kate Winslet may not be the most memorable of all the guest stars in the whole run of Extras but she is undoubtedly one of the strongest. Many of the big favourites (including my top 3) survive mostly due to quotable lines and absurb scenarios. In fact, non of my favourite 3 are really that important to the plot of their episodes and exist only to play with the actor’s reputations. Winslet sticks around way longer than P Stew or David Bowie and has more of an impact than McKellen. She’s one of the few cameos who actually move the narrative forward.
She’s also incredibly willing to poke fun at herself. Though she appears on set as a nun caught up in WW2, Winslet’s character comes out through her conversations with Andy and Maggie between takes. Maggie is bemoaning the fact that her new boyfriend enjoys phone sex whilst she has no clue how to approach the subject. Winslet overhears and, in a very matter-of-fact way, offers help and suggestions to get things going. The relationship between Maggie and Andy is what makes the show so perfect and Winslet’s presence only makes that dynamic flourish.
The interactions with Winslet are the kind of uncomfortably hilarious scenes that you could image watching and, during the grand finale of that plot line, the connection between her and Gervais is just amazing. The pair work well together and, in terms of writing as well, Gervais seems to understand the star wonderfully. This episode, more than a lot of the others, portrays a very well written and rich part for the cameo in question. It’s not just based on a crass mirroring of the star’s perceived nature but a very clever self-parody by a phenomenal actress.
Season 1 may have suffered in comparison to season 2 because the show was still trying to find its feet. The humour doesn’t always stand up as strongly or hit its mark as well as its follow-up but there is plenty to love about this episode besides the potty mouthed Kate Winslet. The episode’s secondary storyline involves Andy trying to woo a fellow extra. There are some genuinely adorable moments in the midst of all the traditional awkward moments and the montage showing Andy spending time with the lady in question is a stand-out moment.
Although, this episode really deserves the title of “best episode” mainly because it showcases everything about that this show got right. Other episodes may have a mix of these but Kate Winslet’s turn just works in harmony. It understands its characters, gives its guest star enough room to let loose and lives up to the comedy its trying to be. Extras had a huge desire to make it’s audience squirm in their seats and there are enough uncomfortable moments in this episode to guarantee they’ll feel awkward watching it. It has to be one of the most cringey but addictive episodes of the whole series. A fact that, in my book at least, makes is the only real candidate for best episode ever.