Wednesday, December 12, 2007

From comedian to character: Ricky Gervais is the new Bill Murray.

Or Robin Williams. Or better?

I'm about to write my review of "Extras: The Extra Special Series Finale," which I've seen twice now (once prior to my podcast with Gervais, another time in a class I teach at CCA). It's a truly great conclusion to the series - perhaps shockingly great. At a full 80 minutes, it's a completely realized wrap-up of all the issues Gervais was poking at with "Extras," one of the most criminally ignored (despite his Emmy win) series on television. But what struck me about all the wonderful aspects of the finale was this: Gervais excels in the dramatic elements. Everybody knows he's brilliantly funny. But here he proves that he's capable of that next step. The finale, echoing the sentiments set forth in Season 2, is dark and bittersweet. The implosion of Andy Millman is thorough and sometimes even difficult to witness (luckily the blindingly funny parts offset it).

Anyway, I can't get over how good Gervais was. Is. And it got me thinking about his future. I hope his next project after his current movie shoot involves something complicated and dark. He can do it. The transition from clown to acclaimed character actor is very, very difficult, however. I'm not the biggest fan of Robin Williams but he made the leap and when he's good at his role, he's really good at his role. Bill Murray, however, might be the modern day standard bearer here. Has there been a better famous funnyman (or woman) who has made the leap to fully accepted dramatic actor? Sure, Murray often gets roles where the script plays to his oddball tendencies and it allows him to use archness or jadedness as a crutch. But not everything he does is so idiosyncratic. (It doesn't all work, either.) But outside of, say Jim Carrey - and his comic style is less acclaimed than either Gervais or Murray - no other comic may have pulled off the dramatic trick as well as Murray. Look, they're all good. Murray, Williams, Carrey. Given the right role, they light up and transform the screen. I'd go so far as to say that Murray's ability can make the most of mediocre material where the others can't. But it's a minor distinction.

The point is, I think Gervais is on the brink of joining that group. He'll need more work under his belt. And I'd like to see him make something dramatic out of other people's words. But he's on the verge. And the "Extras" finale is a real step up, an impressive coming out party for an emerging dramatic actor.

23 comments:

suzyq2 said...

Well put Tim. Murray can be amazing and mesmerizing and I too think Ricky Gervais has the gravitas to pull off that kind of transition from clown to character actor if he so chooses. Think Eddie Izzard. I think the great comedians have quite a dark side.

Tim Goodman said...

Izzard. Good call.

IceX2004 said...

Then there are those like Jim Carrey & Adam Sandler who will always struggle to be taken seriously as actors. They are both so good at being goofy that it's hard for people to see them any other way.

Gervais obviously has the deep talent to work mostly on his own projects (assisted, of course, by Stephen Merchant & others) which bodes well for all us. There's a good chance he will avoid the path Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy & Steve Martin have reached, appearing in one crappy movie after another (with rare exceptions).

JT said...

Tim, I've been following Ricky Gervais since his XFM radio show days and ever since your podcast interview with him, I am dying in anticipation for the Extras finale. I'm so glad I got an HBO subscription with my phone, because the Extras finale and the new season of The Wire will be a joy to watch. And the fact that we're getting this before the Brits - that is amazing. I would hate for spoilers to leak. Can't wait for this and I'm really happy that Gervais got a Golden Globe nod and is getting accolades for his acting.

P.S. Love all your blogs and columns. Keep up the great work.

martinesque said...

Having seen the Extras finale, I have to say I think Gervais acts Murray out of the park on this one. Of course Murray is a genius, he's Bill Freakin' Murray, but I always feel like there's an undercurrent of wink-wink self-awareness in Murray's dramatic work; I don't quite trust him, he's a bit too hip, etc. With Gervais in this episode, sure there's irony there, but you're too busy feeling your heart break to notice. I hope he keeps it up.

@suzyq2:
yeah, I think maybe the dark/serious side is what *makes* a great comedian great, all the way back to the Greeks.

smckenna752 said...

Gervais so does bring it. Anyone see the most recent Christopher Guest film, "For Your Consideration", or the badly marketed "Stardust"? Both are OK entertainment, not great, but RG has minor roles in each that just kill. Comic turns, not drama, but still. Big screen and all.

acksoft said...

Tim, I believe that Gervais did a spooky and dramatic turn as an IRA-like bomber in an episode or two of ALIAS a while back. I was very impressed with his dramatic talents and the part was pretty dark for a guy who is best known as a funny-man.

Anonymous said...

I really wish that Jim Carrey had received more credit for his acting in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It was nice that Kate Winslet was nominated for her role in that film, but I think Carrey made a big leap in that film.

Tunnza said...

I love Extras. I own the first two seasons on DVD. Now I hear that HBO will be releasing the Special only as part of a complete set. Is that true? That seems punitive. It also suggests to me that I should never buy HBO single-season discs in the future. Instead I'll wait until they're available from the library so HBO doesn't make any money off of my viewing.

RG is brilliant. But it looks like I'll miss the finale. Phooey!

Brian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Covebum said...

I'd say Steve Martin made a good jump to drama for awhile, though he has squandered it with all those ridiculous family comedies as Icex2004 notes. He's definitely a sad clown from what I've read, as is Carrey.

Covebum said...

Off topic, but did anyone else notice Lance Reddick, aka Major Daniel's, selling Cadillacs during 30 Rock?

hudson99 said...

Will Smith: not great comedy, but at least one great dramatic role (Six Degrees of Separation)

Jaime Fox: also not the best comedy, but you can't argue with the dramatic talent.

Oh, and maybe Tom Hanks?

The Dive said...

The last time I found Tom Hanks funny was Bossum Buddies. That's comic gold, though.

mtm said...

Will Ferrell in Stranger Than Fiction.

Almondboy said...

Between Dexter season final and Extras series final, what would you watch live and what would you view on the DVR later?

Tim Goodman said...

Almondboy, I think there's an urgency to "Dexter" that demands it be watched live. It's been a year since "Extras" ended. No rush. Plus, that allows you to savor it...

lieber said...

Tim, what about your Christmas music list?

I like, in no particular order:

• The Barenaked Ladies singing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
• Bobby Vinton singing Christmas in Killarney
• Donny Hathway singing This Christmas
• The Vince Guaraldi Trio doing Christmas is Coming
• Nancy Wilson singing The Christmas

lieber said...

The Christmas Waltz

Anonymous said...

I think he is wonderful, and am looking forward to his new movie.

Das_Idjit_Box said...

Anyone who loved Seona Dancing must already be aware of Ricky G's dramatic abilities:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6G9uGPQsVNk

Sorry. Couldn't help it.

Hate to see "Extras" go, but I'd hate even more to see it hang on too long. Looking forward to the next project.

Treyman said...

Yeah I'm stoked for the extras finale and Gervais but I just returned to your blog pre Wire season 5 and saw those 3 clips on Amazon. Amazing. Tv heaven. Extras finale tonight The Wire in what,3 weeks? HBO is paying off again.

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