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Extras: The 5 Most Cringe-Worthy Cameos

by Aly Semigran September 10, 2013 3:21 pm
<i>Extras</i>: The 5 Most Cringe-Worthy Cameos

Much like my last installment in Brilliant But Cancelled -- in which I reflected on the bitingly funny genius of Chris Lilley's Summer Heights High (and hell yes, you better believe I'm excited about the recently announced Ja'mie spin-off show) -- it's technically unfair to call this week's choice a cancelled series either. That's because Ricky Gervais, like Lilley, knows that shows only have a certain shelf life. Gervais -- whose new series Derek debuts on Netflix on Thursday, September 12 -- applied that theory to The Office and, the show under discussion here, Extras.

Extras had an even shorter life than The Office (two, rather than three) and arguably less of a cultural impact (maybe not for Kate Winslet, though). But, to its credit, it has one of the most satisfying series finales in television history and a slew of the funniest, most outrageous celebrity cameos that you have ever seen or ever will see.

I mean, this was a show that got the aforementioned Winslet, one of the most universally liked actresses on the world, to play "herself" as an Oscar-baiting drama queen who only took a role in a Holocaust movie in order to win an Academy Award. In a delicious twist, Winslet actually won her first Oscar for starring in a Holocaust movie, a fact Gervais gleefully pointed out at the Golden Globes that year.

In fact, all of the celebrities who appeared on Extras as wildly exaggerated versions of themselves not only allowed Gervais to poke fun at the very notion of celebrity, but for the celebrities to poke fun of themselves. So while they were all in good fun, some were just a tad more excruciating to watch than others.

On the series, Gervais played Andy, a sad-sack actor who could only find work as an extra until he got his big break on a popular, but terrible mainstream sitcom. It's a wonder that Andy ever wanted to work in showbiz again after the interactions with the stars he came across. Here are the five most cringe-worthy cameos from the late, great Extras:

Patrick Stewart:

Sir Patrick is one of the most beloved stars on the planet (and with good reason) so it was especially hilarious/uncomfortable to watch the known feminist tell Gervais' Andy, with total sincerity, that he's currently writing a script for a movie about being able to take off women's clothes with his mind. How Gervais kept a straight face is beyond me (oh, right, he didn't), but all the credit goes to Stewart for momentarily changing his place as a dignified thespian to a horny guy who brags, "I see everything" regarding a naked woman.

Ian McKellen:

Much like his friend Patrick Stewart's appearance, Sir Ian downplayed his intelligence and craft for his memorable Extras scene. When Andy is cast in a play directed by the legend, Sir Ian tells Andy the secret to his acting craft: "I pretend to be the person I'm portraying." Of course, the truly awkward scenes with Sir Ian come when a panicked Andy learns he is playing gay in the show. Andy is not only visibly uncomfortable at the thought (which, in turn, makes the viewer so very uncomfortable) but then he tries to get the openly gay McKellen to change a same-sex kissing scene and, in turn, all but ruins the opening night of the show. It's skewering gay panic and it's as effective as it is cringe-worthy. It's also, perhaps, the most disconcerting episode of the series.

Daniel Radcliffe:

As a pop culture-consuming people, we've become all too familiar with young stars trying to shed their role model image and be taken "seriously" as sexual objects. Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe could put them all to shame, however, with his damn funny, but oh so humiliating appearance on Extras. In his segment, the young star desperately tries to impress the women on set with his bad boy "grown up" things like cigarettes, condoms (already out of the wrapper), and foul language. It all disastrously blows up in his face, and you honestly don't know who to feel worse for: the unwitting women he's hitting on (including Andy's dear friend Maggie, played by the excellent Ashley Jensen) or Radcliffe himself.

Clive Owen:

Maggie had to put up with her fair share of desperate actors desperately trying to hit on her (Radcliffe) and prove how beloved they are (see: Orlando Bloom's hilariously self-righteous appearance) but none were as degrading as the time she had to work with Clive Owen. In fact, her scene with the Oscar-nominated actor was so bad, it made her quit acting for good. In the cameo, Owen is horrified to learn that his character is supposed to have sex with Maggie's character in a movie and cries that he is too good looking for her. To make up for it, he asks the director to throw mud and shit at Maggie (well, her character) during the scene. It's all just so monumentally depressing to watch unfold. I know Clive Owen (or, as Gervais' pal Karl Pilkington has called him on their podcast, Clive Warren) isn't remotely like this in real life, but ever since this Extras moment, I've never been able to look at him the same way.

David Bowie:

Gervais recently said that rock legend David Bowie's cameo on Extras was his favorite of the series, and with good reason: it's a classic moment. When Andy and his friend Maggie wind up in the same VIP area of a club as Bowie, they introduce themselves. Bowie is polite enough to the pair, but when he finds out Andy is on a terrible sitcom, he sings an impromptu song about him… called "Pathetic Little Fat Man." It only gets worse for Andy as Bowie soon has the whole bar singing along to lines like "He's a fat waste of space" and "See his pug-nose face." It's hard to admit the tune isn't catchy, but it was still painful to watch Andy sit through such a public humiliation.

If only Life's Too Short had been better so that we could have enjoyed more of Gervais' uncanny ability to get dignified actors to make total asses out of themselves (see: Liam Neeson as a comedy hopeful in that series). Thank goodness we'll always have Extras for that.

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