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Raggedy Andy -- Extras: The Extra Special Series Finale (HBO)

Extra-special Extras stars Ricky Gervais and Ashley Jensen..

A big, 80-minute last gasp of Extras leaves ample room for what the series has never really dabbled in. That would be poignancy.

Star/co-creator Ricky Gervais, who earlier birthed and fronted The Office, has heretofore been soft only in his marshmallow-y midsection. Now he adds other soft touches in Extras: The Extra Special Series Finale (Sunday, Dec. 16th, 8 p.m. central).

This all could have ended very darkly, with fame-seeking Andy Millman (Gervais) succumbing on all fours while his faithful friend and companion, Maggie Jacobs (Ashley Jensen), ended up destitute after wasting her time with him. Instead we get closure of a different sort after the show's reliably dark comedy gets sugared to taste with pathos.

The lump-in-the-throat moments largely go to Jensen's hard-pressed Maggie, who steals the finale with a performance that's both huggable and indomitable. Extras is fresh off two Golden Globe nominations for best comedy series and Gervais' lead acting. But they blew it in not recognizing Jensen, who greatly helps to make Extras exceptional.

The series began in fall 2005, with Andy and Maggie shlepping along as bit players in star-driven movies. But he hit fool's gold in Season 2 as the catchphrase-spouting star of an insipid sitcom titled When the Whistle Blows. Now Andy's begun to chafe at the thought of being forever remembered for saying, "You 'avin' a laugh?" Besides, the toy likenesses of his character, Ray Stokes, aren't selling well at all during the holiday season.

"I want to be associated with credible stuff," Andy tells an on-the-make agent before dropping inept but loyal Darren Lamb (Extras co-creator Darren Lamb).

Maggie continues to take whatever menial acting jobs are offered. But she finally balks when Clive Owen, playing himself, finds her unacceptable in the role of a common whore.

"I wouldn't pay for that," he sniffs in her presence, recommending that the character be pelted with dung. Maggie dodges that bullet by walking off the set, swearing off acting and hunkering down miserably in a barely inhabitable one-room apartment. Her travails become deeply moving.

Andy's master thespian dreams aren't panning out either. Still, he becomes pompous and unkind, even to Maggie. His new, real-life catchphrase, "Life is cruel," comes from the heart of a new-found darkness. He's undeterred when told, "Fame is a mask that eats into the face."

The episode also features guest appearances by George Michael, Gordon Ramsay and David ("Dr. Who") Tennant, all playing themselves. Throughout Extras, Gervais has persuaded big-name personages to act insufferable while playing themselves. This time, though, even the bombastic Ramsay isn't as odious as Andy's become.

His Waterloo is Britain's version of Big Brother, whose celebrity edition of course is a haven for has-beens. Maggie watches it raptly, still hoping that Andy will return to the living rather than flush himself down fame and fortune's toilet bowl.

This is where Gervais had to make a choice. Would he end Extras by lighting a candle or by extinguishing all that had gone before? Let's just say that true-blue Maggie Jacobs deserves the ending awaiting her. Not that Andy Millman will ever really deserve her. Such is life, even as Extras calls it a wrap.

Grade: A