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The Extras Christmas Special is the greatest made-for-TV festive feature-length of all time.
Christmas, with its fully-loaded food, blinding lights and million-pound advertising campaigns, is the most ‘extra’ of all the holiday seasons. Thus, the humble opinion of this square-eyed couch potato must be written in the stars. But it’s so much more than fate which makes Ricky Gervais’ Christmas special the most special of all.
The full festive trailer will give you a quick briefing as to why:
For those who never watched the award-winning Extras, the Christmas special – aired 11 years ago – marks the final decline of Ricky Gervais’ sympathetic, down-trodden but ultimately unlikeable Andy Millman, as he scrabbles for fame and credibility at the end of a relatively miserable run.
With all the charming character complexity and awkward intensity of The Office, Stephen Merchant and Gervais’ Extras embodies the realities of life and the modern day obsession with fame and fortune over friendship and family.
Okay, so it’s not the most traditional Christmas narrative.
In fact the seasonal nods, and the backdrop of the grey Christmas climate to which we have all become accustomed, only serve to make Millman’s desperation more bleak.
We rejoin the cast of glorious cameos, after two blisteringly funny seasons – featuring the likes of Samuel L. Jackson, Kate Winslet, Daniel Radcliffe, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, as well as household names like Philip Schofield – with a swan song of excellence.
The narrative picks up as Millman’s BBC 1 catchphrase-cluttered show, When The Whistle Blows, is garnering 6 million viewers and bucket loads of cash as it haemorrhages critical acclaim and integrity.
He’s got a new agent, bit parts in television shows such as Hotel Babylon, a nice house on Hampstead Heath and a double-page spread, albeit not flattering, in the Guardian.
… And he’s miserable; a man of a sluggish nature only matched by the likes of the character he ungratefully plays in the Doctor Who Christmas special.
Millman plays the part of a real modern day Scrooge, with lots of money, a big ego and a lump of coal slowly replacing the very heart resting in his chest.
As Andy’s infuriating but loyal relationships breakdown, caught in the crossfire of his quest for recognition, a wider social commentary is bubbling under the surface.
Alongside a brilliantly confident cameo from the late, great George Michael, as well as self-aware bit parts from Clive Owen, Gordon Ramsay and David Tennant, Millman attempts to claw back respectability, while hankering for fame and fortune.
It’s a truly modern malady, which has sadly stood the test of time in the 11 years since the Extras Christmas Special first aired.
Battling the construct of celebrity, while trying to wheedle his way into The Ivy, Millman’s story acts as a moralising tale, culminating in the most epic speech and damning indictment of modern culture known to man.
When boiled down, it does in fact speak to the heart of the Christmas ethos; a simple diktat requiring people to be kind, humble and human.
From the so-called ‘Celebrity’ Big Brother house, Andy’s speech goes a little something like this:
I’m just sick of these celebrities just living their life out in the open, why would you do that? It’s like these pop stars who choose the perfect moment to go into rehab; they call their publicist before they call a taxi.
Then they come out and they do their second autobiography; this one’s called Love Me Or I’ll Kill Myself… Oh, kill yourself then.
Criticising the ‘gutter press’, the character continues:
And the papers lap it up, they follow us round and that makes people think we’re important and that makes us think we’re important.
If they stopped following us around, taking pictures of us people wouldn’t take to the streets going: ‘Ooo quick, I need a picture of Cameron Diaz with a pimple’.
They wouldn’t care, they’d get on with something else. They’d get on with their lives.
Tackling the upskirting issue long before it hit mainstream consciousness, Millman added:
You open the paper and you see a picture of Lindsay Lohan getting out of a car and the headline is ‘Cover up Lindsay! We can see your knickers’.
Of course you can see her knickers, your photographer is lying in the road pointing his camera up her dress to see her knickers. You’re literally the gutter press.
No one is safe, as Andy continues:
And f*ck you, the makers of this show as well. You can’t wash your hands of this. You can’t keep going, ‘Oh, it’s exploitation but it’s what the public want.’ No.
The Victorian freak show never went away, now it’s called Big Brother or X Factor where we wheel out the bewildered to be sniggered at by multi-millionaires.
And f*ck you for watching this at home. Shame on you. And shame on me.
Turning the lens on himself Andy concludes:
I’m the worst of all cause I’m one of these people that goes: ‘Ooo I’m an entertainer. It’s in my blood.’ Yeah, it’s in my blood cause a real job’s too hard.
I would have loved to have been a doctor. Too hard, didn’t want to put the work in. Love to be a war hero… I’m too scared. So I go, ‘Oh it’s what I do.’ And I have someone bollocked if my cappuccino’s cold or if they look at me the wrong way.
Do you know what a friend of mine once said? They said I’ll never be happy because I’ll never be famous enough and they were right.
Moments later, the Extras series culminates with the ultimate ethical question of our times: a choice between fame and friendship, as Cat Stevens’ Tea for the Tillerman – arguably the greatest borrowed theme tune of all time – chimes in for one final moralising musical number.
This particular festive special holds a mirror up to the way we celebrate Christmas with all the bluster and fanfare of curated celebrity gossip; the Instagram-worthy roasties and the tree copied straight from your favourite Pinterest board.
Since the show first aired in 2007, its message has only become more poignant.
Last year, Love Island contestants, Jess Shears and Dom Lever, got ‘married’ live on morning television in a white bikini and swimming trunks, respectively.
This year, so-called Celebrity Big Brother was marred in controversy, between racism and false accusations of assault.
Meanwhile, Great British society collectively sits in front of the tele, popcorn in laps, scrolling through Twitter, as we watch the televisual world of half-baked celebrity burn.
All the while, the ratings soar and the perpetrators of this idiocy are given sponsorship deals and Missguided codes.
The money-centric merriment of the holidays reflects the truly Capitalist society in which we live, where we make the very bodies we stand in commodities to be traded for social leverage in ‘likes’ and retweets.
Christmas is forced down our throats come the winter months each year, consumed more readily and with more haste than you can gorge on an Iceland sharing platter of prawns and countless pigs in blanket while watching the latest John Lewis advert to soothe your soul and inevitable indigestion.
Not before it’s shared to Instagram, though. Andy Millman would be horrified.
But, ever the festive anti-hero, the narrative ends on a high when he manages to extricate himself from the quagmire of commodified and curated celebrity culture to spend time with the one he loves.
If that isn’t a holiday miracle deserving of the title ‘Greatest TV Christmas Special’, you must be havin’ a laff!
Christmas is a time for tele.
This year, the UNILAD team have each argued the case for their favourite of the greatest festive TV Christmas Specials of all time.
Have your say. Tell us your go-to Christmas classic in the poll below:
<INSERT TV POLL>
Go on, it’ll stop the bickering.
Merry Christmas, and happy channel-hopping to all!
If you have a Christmas story you want to tell, send it to [email protected]