So I've been watching Extras again after nearly a year of the boxset gathering dust on my shelf.
I was into The Office way before it was cool, and when I first saw Extras I defended Gervais/Merchant when all my friends complained of how the show did absolutely nothing new.
Now, I think they were right.
It's not so much the lack of range comedically - when you tune into a Merchant/Gervais sitcom, you're expecting the following to happen more or less every other scene:
1) Person makes/performs outrageous/inappropriate comment/action about a minority/disabled/religious person.
2) Person tries to back out of said comment/action but digs a deeper hole.
3) Awkward silence.
4) Cut to forced dramatic scene.
No, what annoyed me was the theme of the second series. Andy is pissed off his sitcom has been raped and transformed into a 'broad' genre piece, complete with silly wigs and catchphrases. Fair enough. But then the show more or less turns into a rant about the drudgery of mainstream pop culture.
We see one shot where the camera pans across the audience at a taping of Andy's show, who all wear shirts bearing catchphrases spouted by other comedians/performers Gervais presumably doesn't think are on his level.
One of the shirts had 'Garlic bread?!' written on it, a reference to Peter Kay. Now, this set me off thinking about what the term 'broad comedy' actually infers. Pandering to audiences? No trace in the piece of the author's personal views/outlook on life? Lowest common denominator pap?
For my money, 'Pheonix Nights' was about as far from a 'broad comedy' as one can get without becoming a Larry David stand-up routine. It featured very specific, very honed references to northern working-class life. It was also incredibly intelligent and took risks with the basic premise. The fire inspector with a penchant for Labrador buggery, the illegal immigrants who worked in the kitchen, Ray Von, the DJ whom may or may not have murdered several of the girls he has been out with.
Is, then, broad comedy an over-reliance on familiar calling cards? If so, isn't Gervais' brand of cringe-comedy the definition of broad, in that pretty much everyone has done or said something stupid at some point?
Monty Python, once seen as radical and edgy, the counter-cultural comedy of the seventies, is now pretty much a cherished piece of our heritage. At what point did it become broad?
The Simpsons, Gervais favourite show, is probably as broad as comedy gets. Yet, once again, there are so many small details, so many references to works of art, poetry, literature, pop culture, philosophy, politics, etc, that it's possible to appreciate it as one of those things - like The Beatles, or Pulp Fiction - which retains it's credibility despite appealing to a massive range of people.
Gervais has some good points to make, but the hypocrisy shines through: Hating pandering to the audience, yet using the appeal of high-profile A-listers behaving outrageously to prop up a fairly traditional sitcom. Dismissing pretty much everything English in terms of media, yet worshiping at the altar of American pop culture while failing to acknowledge that those bloomin' Yanks have brought us far more Dynastys than Sopranos.
I didn't realize this would turn into an essay, but fuck it. My overall point is why the divide now between mainstream comedy and *shudders* alternative, if you will, comedy? Surely if somethings funny then it should be held in high regard, regardless? Why the snobbery?
This is not a defense of Catherine Tate, either. She isn't funny now and she won't be funny ten years from now.