Cringe Comedy Brit Com
by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, starring Gervais as an out-of-work actor scraping by as an extra in the British film industry, with Ashley Jensen as his socially inept friend and fellow extra, and Merchant as his spectacularly incompetent agent. In the second season the story evolved as Gervais' character became the star of a popular but critically-reviled sitcom.
Packed a massive array of celebrity guests into its twelve episodes, and in fact the (officially untitled) episodes have often been referred to by names such as "Kate Winslet" or "Ben Stiller". Perhaps more impressively, the show has been extremely successful in getting actors to play versions of themselves who are incredibly conceited, or vicious, or vain, or stupid, or otherwise horrible human beings.
Concluded with a Christmas Episode
, which gave it an identical run to The Office
This show provides examples of:
- Adam Westing: Pretty much the sole purpose for any high profile guest star.
- Artifact Title: The show was originally about two extras, hence the name. As of Season Two, Andy is no longer an extra. Although Maggie continues to work as an extra, it is no longer the main plotline of the show, and even so, there is only one of her.
- Author Tract: In the Christmas Episode. Andy Millman's breakdown on Big Brother and subsequent tirade against the empty pursuit of fame is expressing - nearly word for word - Gervais's own views on the subject as evidenced by many interviews.
- Break the Cutie:
- When a child extra in a war film trips up and ruins the shot by laughing, Ben Stiller snaps him out of it by asking how he would feel if he shot his mother in the face right in front of him. He even demonstrates with a prop gun.
- Maggie in the Christmas Episode, who quits being an extra, moves into a horrible one-room flat, hovers near poverty and ends up bursting into tears in a Carphone Warehouse.
- Break the Haughty: Andy being publically humiliated into admitting that he actually doesn't have the leverage to cancel "his" sitcom as a protest against Executive Meddling.
- Also, his agent Trey telling him in no uncertain terms that he can either have fame and money, or integrity and respect - because only a handful of people in the world get to have both. What does Andy want? He's forced to admit "fame and money" from between his clenched teeth.
- British Brevity: Just twelve episodes plus a Christmas special. Some Hollywood actors were hopeful that it would continue to a third season just so they could appear on the show. Robert De Niro, in particular, hoped to appear a second time because he felt his appearance didn't turn out as well as he'd hoped.
- Camp Gay: Damon, the staff writer/producer for When the Whistle Blows. His campness irritates Andy so much that he mocks him behind his back, leading to an embarrassing confrontation. Also "Bunny" Bunton, the closeted theater director.
- Catchphrase: "Are you having a laugh?" "Is he/she having a laugh?" It was originally meant as a one-time line put in by Andy for the show but the producer loved it so much that he decided to make it a catchphrase. It sold well on the sitcom, but when Andy tried to use it in a theatre production he just ruined (since he refused to engage in an on-stage kiss with the other male lead), the audience was silent, leaving Andy redfaced.
- Caught with Your Pants Down: One episode has Andy walk in on his agent masturbating to a pen with a naked woman's picture on it. His agent's secretary then comes in and takes the pen from him... and is also masturbating to it when Andy leaves. Hilariously invoked later on when Darren meets Robert De Niro after repeatedly failing to get Andy a meeting with him, and to pass the time, he shows De Niro the same pen. Later, Darren calls Andy and invites him for drinks with De Niro, and Maggie gets to come along; De Niro can be heard to enquire "Is it the lady from the pen?".
- Caustic Critic: Mark Kermode and Germaine Greer (playing themselves) are shown lambasting When the Whistle Blows on TV. And then there was this promotional clip for Extras itself.
- Celebrity Star: The show runs on this. Spoofed when Coldplay's Chris Martin gets an illogical guest spot on Andy's show. "What are you doing here, in a factory in Wigan? It's mental."
- Classically Trained Extra: Greg Lindley-Jones, Andy's Jerkass colleague. In the Christmas Episode, he rubs salt in Andy's wounds by achieving both of the things Andy wants and is bluntly informed he can never hope to have simultaneously: popular fame and a reputation as a serious and talented artist.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Daniel Radcliffe, of all people.
- Also, Maggie who frequently comes up with extremely bizarre non sequiturs.
- Crazy Jealous Guy: Warwick Davis gets violent when Andy makes a pass at his wife.
- Cringe Comedy:
- David Bowie's "serenade" to Andy.
- Andy has a stab at theatre respectability by appearing in a play directed by Sir Ian McKellen, only to blow it big time when he can't kiss his male co-star in front of his manly school buddies.
- The scene where Maggie tries to hide her beloved childhood golliwog doll from the black guy she's invited back to her flat has a shot at the title...
- The scene where Andy tells Maggie to ask for his autograph in front of his attractive neighbor is almost unwatchable.
- Les Dennis' incredibly pathetic appearance is exquisitely painful to watch.
- Andy trying to pass himself off as a Catholic in front a room full of'em while knowing almost nothing about the religion.
- Every episode has at least one sequence that makes you want to curl up and die, most notably Andy's attempts to worm his way out of visiting a terminally ill child at the hospital.
- Robert Lindsay cringing himself with his narcissism in front of the same ill child.
- Maggie confusing Samuel L. Jackson as Laurence Fishburne is hard to watch...
- The Cynic: Andy.
- The Danza: Parodied. Keith Chegwin's character in his guest appearance on When the Whistle Blows is renamed when he has trouble responding to Alfie, the character's original name.
- Deconstructive Parody: Ross Kemp's appearance plays on - and deconstructs - his public image as a tough guy, and prompts the following gems:
Kemp: I head-butted a horse once.
: Must've deserved it.
: D'you know what S.A.S.
Andy: Um...Special...? Air -
- Dirty Old Man: Patrick Stewart. He shows Andy a screenplay he's written, which is entirely an excuse to ogle naked women.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Maggie inadvertantly re-enacts the Rosa Parks incident by telling an actor, who happens to be black, to get off her bus (as the scripted actors and extras are meant to have different catering vans).
- Dumb Blonde:
- Maggie, who is constantly slow on the uptake and extremely socially inept.
- Also Darren Lamb, who is utterly incompetent as an agent, but just smart enough for Carphone Warehouse.
- Keith Chegwin definitely qualifies in his portrayal of himself on When the Whistle Blows. When he has trouble responding to cues for his character, Alfie, Andy decides that it would be best to change the characters name to Keith. Hilarity continues.
- Dumbass Has a Point: As clueless as Maggie is, she's the one who allows Bunny's daughter to see how unhappy she is as well as the person to finally point out to Andy that he'll never be able to achieve enough to satisfy himself.
- Darren actually manages to convince Andy to stick with a play where he plays a gay man, pointing out how much acclaim Tom Hanks, Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger received after doing Philadelphia and Brokeback Mountain respectively.
- Executive Meddling: In-series; Andy's smart satirical show gets mutated by producers for mass appeal into a brainless catchphrase-driven piece of dreck. Andy's original concept is suspiciously similar to The Office, so When the Whistle Blows is a parody of what could have happened if it had been taken in the opposite direction.
- Fan Myopia: In-Universe, no one has ever heard of Star Trek: The Next Generation, so Patrick Stewart has to keep reminding them when he says "Make it so".
- Green-Eyed Monster: Orlando Bloom seethes with jealousy over Johnny Depp:
- Grammar Nazi: Diana Rigg repeatedly corrects Daniel Radcliffe on the correct way to ask for the errant condom he accidentally fired at her head.
- Hesitation Equals Dishonesty: Andy asks Maggie if she likes his new sitcom:
"Too long a pause! If you're going to lie, lie well!
- Her Codename Was Mary Sue: Patrick Stewart's blatant Author Avatar Parody Sue, who only exists so Patrick can be the best at everything and get to see women naked.
- I Love You Because I Can't Control You: Orlando Bloom becomes fascinated by Maggie because she claims she doesn't find him attractive. He spends the rest of the episode trying to woo her.
- It's All About Me: Most of the featured guest stars display some degree of this. Andy himself sometimes qualifies, especially in the Christmas special.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Andy is definitely an asshole, but he is significantly less of an ass than those around him think he is. And he has occasionally shown himself to be caring, creative, and even tender (at least to Maggie).
- Kafka Komedy
- A Man Is Not a Virgin: Daniel Radcliffe clearly runs on this trope in his episode, given his desperation to get laid. He does claim to have had sex, although it's somewhat doubtful. Averted with Andy, who lost his virginity at 28 to a woman who looked like Ronnie Corbett.
- Mean Character, Nice Actor: Pretty much every celebrity is a lot nicer than the bastard versions of themselves they play here.
- Method Acting: Deliciously parodied. Ian McKellen's acting method is to pretend to be like the person he is portraying, and imagine how that character would act in that situation.
"If we were to draw a graph of my process, of my method, it would be something like this: Sir Ian, Sir Ian, Sir Ian, action, wizard YOU SHALL NOT PASS!, cut. Sir Ian, Sir Ian, Sir Ian.
- The Millstone: Darren Lamb. And occasionally Andy himself.
- Money, Dear Boy: Parodied by Chris Martin of Coldplay: he's spends every scene he is in plugging their (then) new greatest hits album on everything from a sitcom to a public service announcement about starving children to his shirt.
- No Fame, No Wealth, No Service:
- In one episode, Andy is able to use his newfound fame to get into the VIP area of a club, only to be thrown out when David Bowie and his entourage arrive. When he tries to get back in, the bouncer refuses because he's still never heard of him.
- In the Christmas special, Andy's ability to get a reservation at the Ivy is used to indicate how his career is going at any given point.
- No Title: To the episodes.
- The Nudifier: Patrick Stewart wants to make a movie in which he plays a character with awesome psychic powers... that are used solely to cause women's clothes to fall off.
- Of Corsets Funny: Andy wears a girdle to an audition to look younger and fitter than he is. It does not go well.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Shaun Williamson is called Barry by all of the characters except Andy.
- Only Sane Man: Andy
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Happens in-show to Andy playing Ray when the futility of what he's doing saps his focus. Especially noticeable when Chris Martin cameos.
- Overly Long Gag: Patrick Stewart's scene, in which he explains the plot of his new screenplay, about a man with telekinetic powers. He describes four or five different scenes, and the punchline (he uses his powers to remove a woman's clothes) is the same every time.
- Pervert Dad: Bunny is repeatedly seen performing with his daughter in ways that make other characters cringe and look away. The fact that he's gay kinda averts this, though.
- Pet the Dog: Greg is a grade-A asshole, but he didn't have to tell Maggie that she could apply for a supplementary performance fee (and in the same scene he makes Andy genuinely laugh).
- Power Perversion Potential: Patrick Stewart's screenplay about a Reality Warper who spends the whole time using his powers to see women naked.
- Show Within a Show: Virtually every episode is based around the making of one, although Andy's sitcom When the Whistle Blows is the only one we actually get to see.
- Smug Snake: Greg, who, though the show doesn't have any out-and-out villains, absolutely loves patronising Andy and making him jealous, and goes out of his way to embarrass him.
- Special Guest: Once an Episode. As noted above, Chris Martin's appearance is specifically parodying this concept.
- Spoiled Brat: Andy. He's always complaining about how much people have ruined his sitcom and how terrible his acting career is going, even though the BBC took the risk of letting a complete newcomer co-write and star in his own sitcom, when a massive percentage of aspiring actors don't even come close to that stage in their careers in their lives.
- And even though he hates the sitcom and everything it stands for, he obviously has no objections when it comes to spending all of the money that it made him.
- Straight Gay: The BBC producer of When the Whistle Blows, revealing himself as such after Andy insults the Camp Gay staff writer Damon.
- Take That:
- "When The Whistle Blows" is this to shows who rely on wigs and catchphrases, and old-fashioned Work Coms with broad humor and obnoxious laugh tracks. It takes a special crack at dinnerladies, with one character obviously doing a Victoria Wood impression.
- An affectionate and tongue-in-cheek one occurs when Patrick Stewart is utterly bewildered to learn that Andy isn't married, doesn't have a girlfriend, lives on his own... and doesn't watch Star Trek?
- The Doctor Who parody in the Christmas Special bears more than a passing resemblance to 1984's "The Twin Dilemma," which is widely regarded as the worst-ever Doctor Who story. Stephen Merchant has hinted that this wasn't just a co-incidence.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Andy gets one from his replacement agent Trey in the Christmas Special, for wanting to be all things to all people instead of focusing either on being a mass-audience entertainer, or a respected niche artist.
- Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Andy has his unlikeable side.
- Villainous Breakdown: Ben Stiller somehow manages to let himself get nudged into one of these when he's firing Andy; he just can't let Andy go without showing off, which backfires on him when it's pointed out that his constant boasting about his conquests leaves out one very important detail:
Andy: Bye, nerd.
Ben Stiller: Oh, I'm a nerd?!
Andy: Yes, you are.
Ben Stiller: I'm a nerd! I've kissed Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore! I, uh, I slapped Jennifer Aniston's butt!
Maggie: In films.
Ben Stiller: It still counts! [Stomps away, turns, realizes the entire cast and crew is staring at him; defensively] It still counts! ... It still counts. I did it. [Stomps off]
- Waiting for a Break: Darren Lamb works at Carphone Warehouse on Saturdays as Maternity Leave cover, with the implication this is how he actually makes any money as he is a rather incompetent agent. Ironically usually it's agents who get people out of that situation, not in it themselves.