The new fall TV season thus far has felt more underwhelming than when NBC tried to re-create the Brit-sitcom Coupling
with blow-up dolls that had no sense of comic timing. Yes, Seth Cohen has worn on every last nerve and Laguna Beach
!) actually is a more entertaining show than the pseudo-soap it attempted to rip-off. The first few episodes of The O.C.
have reminded us that plot lines can be sewn up in less than 40 minutes, and that whenever anyone is about to emerge from a month-long coma, they always warn us by tapping their index finger a few times. Meanwhile, NBC's much-hyped My Name is Earl
feels too smart for primetime, but too banal and preachy to really gain a loyal cult following. And the once-brilliant Curb Your Enthusiasm
now feels like it was written from a tired sitcom template: Larry David gets angry about [an issue]. Larry David tries to fix/deal with/meddle in [the issue]. In the end, [the issue] is resolved, but Larry David pays his dues because his meddling has caused a twisted karmic warp in the event cycle.
But there is one standout comedy that, like the British version of The Office, could serve to redefine the sitcom: Ricky Gervais's Extras (co-written by Stephen Merchant), has all of the uncomfortable situations and awkward pauses that made The Office a prototype for emerging comedy, as well humor so brilliantly dark and subversive it makes some of the jokes in The Aristocrats look benign. The first episode (airing Sunday nights on HBO) had Kate Winslet in a nun's outfit talking about masturbation against the backdrop of Nazi flags, and Gervais' character courting a woman, among the flags, while pretending to be a Catholic. But unlike the aforementioned disappointments, Extras is about more than the poorly delivered quips and one-liners: It's Gervais's willingness to explore what makes us uncomfortable, what we say when we think no one is listening, and what is forbidden and why that makes his shows so revolutionary. Too bad CBS isn't paying attention.