Last night's episode of Extras was the best of the three that have aired so far. Part of what made it so funny was that Ricky Gervais's character was the sympathetic victim of cringeworthy, absurd situations more than the Larry David-like instigator of them. Also, I actually prefer when the celebrities-playing-themselves are people only known to the UK audience as opposed to being American celebrities or UK celebrities who are known to Americans like Kate Winslet. The show never seems to get the characters of the celebrities you know quite right (though the portrayal of Ben Stiller as a complete bastard was inspired). When the person is someone you don't really know (I mean I know who Vinnie Jones is but what American would know Ross Kemp from Eastenders? C'mon.) you don't have any preconceptions and can view them simply as funny characters. As such, both Ross Kemp and Vinnie Jones were hilarious. The final scene with Ricky Gervais and Ross Kemp was cringeworthy, uncomfortable and real on a par with some of the best stuff from The Office. The scenes between Gervais and his collaborator and friend Stephen Merchant playing his hapless agent just continue to get funnier. It's just a pleasure to watch these two do comedy together. And I just love the fact that the theme song for the show is "Tea for the Tillerman" by Cat Stevens. It somehow works perfectly.
The episode of Rome was also the best yet in its series. It was a tour de force. So much happened yet it didn't feel rushed at all. And the characters are starting to get filled out more deeply. Pompey was rendered particularly complex and sympathetic in this his final episode. Caesar is also becoming more of a central and more of a defined character. The moment when he welcomed Brutus and Cicero back into his camp without a formal surrender was priceless. You could just see how much it killed them to have to accept such charity and how it was simultaneously an instance of Caesar's magnanimity and a statement to them of just how in charge he was. Vorenus continues to get more interesting. You really got to see the dual nature of the man and the society when he went so quickly from the ready violence towards Pompey's Greek guide to his chivalrous, noble behavior toward Pompey himself. The escaping on a raft of corpses idea, which was ripped off from the pirate-comic-within-the-comic in Watchmen, which in turn was probably ripped off from some ancient source is still always an exciting deus-ex-machina to see enacted. I don't know what to make yet of the Servilia/Octavia lesbianism subplot. Thus far it seems somewhat gratuitous but maybe it'll become more thematic and interesting as the series moves on. The amazing blood ritual that Atia did at the beginning really showed what a different world this is than ours. However, there was a lot less Atia than usual, and amazingly not any of Octavian - the show's breakout character - at all. It was an episode about foreground, broad historical strokes, yet it somehow helped you know a lot of the characters on an intimate level too. This series is really coming into its own.
So do the opposite of what the cool kids do and skip Curb Your Enthusiasm and watch Extras and Rome instead. You'll be happy you did.