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What You Should Be Watching: Extras

Extras Sundays @ 10 PM on HBO In a nutshell: The Office + Curb Your Enthusiasm Aren't you Americans lucky? Ricky Gervais's second hit BBC show (since The Office) is here on Pay Cable! Gervais plays goofy and awkward (sound familiar?) bit-part actor Andy Millman who spends his time playing the role of an extra in crappy British TV shows and movies. His agent, Darren Lamb (Office co-creator Stephen Merchant) can't actually get the guy a good part to save his life - his role is really that of being more pathetic than Andy than actually getting him work. Ashley Jensen (the wardrobe closet manager on Ugly Betty) plays Gervais' co-extra and best friend Maggie, who, while not more pathetic than Andy is actually more clueless. But sweet. She plays Andy's conscience. Andy gets some local recognition - mostly from people on the street who hate him or directors that dispise him. Like Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm, he is pretty good at unintentionally pissing people off just by opening his mouth - a role not too far off from Gervais' Office manager David Brent. By the second season (the current HBO season), Darren manages to land Andy his own TV show to write and star in, but the show quickly spirals into a dumbed-down version of his vision. Andy plays a factory supervisor with a funny wig & glasses and a catch phrase. Andy's popularity grows but he is miserable - the running gag of this season is that the show caters to the lowest common denominator - which happens to also be the largest tv viewing audience. Now instead of sneering at him, people on the street ask for his goofy catch phrase. But his peers still think he's crap. The absolute hilight of this show is the guest stars each week - famous British actors playing a cartoon version of themselves. A lusty Kate Winslet, an insane Ian McKellan, a horny bragging Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), a pretensious Chris Martin (Coldplay), a slimy David Bowie, a dispicable Ronnie Barker and of course the over-the-top vain Orlando Bloom. The "real" famous people give the show an edge over just the humdrum of Andy's life. Another great part of this show is getting to see more GervaisdespiseTVhighlight and Merchant ipretentiousnterplaydespicable, which was missing on The Office where Merchant was not a principle. Merchant & Gervais's podcats became hugely popular in 2006. So much so that they became pay-for podcasts. But the two work brilliantly together, like a pair of British Napoleon Dynamites, two idiots playing off each other. Add in Shaun Williamson as Darren's lackey Barry - a sort of Karl-like character (see podcasts) - and the so-dumb-it's-funny just drips out of the screen. Unfortunately, this series is only available in the US on HBO...but if you are clever you can lap it up elsewhere. Or really if you're that clever, you can afford HBO. If you're really serious about this mission, get the first series on DVD. For those of you who just aren't clever...I guess you'll have to wait until season 2 comes out on DVD. You're also reading the wrong blog.

Everybody’s working for the weekend

Do you work in an office? Do you work for a large company? Does your company have a mission statement, core values, or a bold declaration of what principles that it holds dear?


These two clips are brilliant – and the first, more than the second, is a really interesting artifact. First, it shows that Microsoft, hated by Linux geeks and Mac fans the world over as the evil empire, has a sense of humor. Or at least, the Values Team has a sense of humor, and the latitude to have something like this made.


The second reason this is interesting is that it makes a mockery of the notion that a company has values. Ricky Gervais' character, despite being genuinely hilarious, is a standard trope in corporate training films – the Goofus, brought in as an example of how not do do things. Even Conan O'Brien has played this part.

Usually, though, there is a corresponding Gallant character to show us the way. Not in this case - Stephen Merchant's character is distressed by what has been said, but we're not given very many examples of what these values should mean to each and every one of us.

I wonder. Are these videos just played as ice-breakers, followed by 40 minutes of more standard corporate training? Is Microsoft guerrilla marketing to their own employees, hoping that grabbing their attention will be enough to get some message across?

The first video seems to almost be an acknowledgment that, although we have yearly training and a whole team dedicated to managing them, corporate values are just expensive common sense. Every company is different, obviously, but if you read the news everyday, you're bound to get the impression that if many companies were actually (not just legally) people, they would be sociopaths with multiple personality disorder. They have Core Values too. I wonder if having values and communicating them to your employees has any correlation with ethical behavior, motivation, or success.

How does a values team measure their accomplishments? Do they get bonuses every year the CEO doesn't pull an Enron? Do they get bad reviews when the guy on the loading doc ships his personal items on the company account?

This is not to say that all this is worthless. It would be a really, really interesting research project to figure out how to even measure efficacy, and then see if they are effective. A brief look at the literature suggests it's still a big question...