The opening shot of the Extras series finale airing on HBO Sunday marks another hilarious humiliation for Ricky Gervais’s aspiring-actor character Andy Millman. But it’s also an unintentionally loaded image for American TV viewers. Last seen in season two starring in a lowest-common-denominator, catchphrase-intensive sitcom that lifted him out of anonymity but also brought him unwanted notoriety, Andy now sits hunched over and rubbing his temples on a couch in a crazily decorated, brightly lit living room while a group of people behind him talk over each other, point fingers and tell each other to “FUCK OFF!” It becomes all too evident this is a UK celebrity Big Brother when we hear an announcer intone “Day Seven… All the housemates are in the kitchen.” Andy, however, looks like he’s trapped in Hell’s waiting room. The rest of the hour-and-a-half special is a flashback tracking in exquisitely painful and funny detail the decisions — usually selfish (cutting off his devoted friend, played by Ashley Jensen), ill-timed (faking a phone call from Ridley Scott to a reporter) and misdirectedly ambitious (thinking a girdle will help him get film parts) — that led to this new low point in his career. But who in the U.S. with discerning taste and one eye kept closely on writers’ strike developments won’t view Andy’s suicidal vibe on that Big Brother sofa and consider their own lot when next year rolls around and everywhere the channel changer takes you is an insipid reality show? Eventually Andy has to decide if he can leave the house and reclaim his dignity. With TV’s creative future in flux, we could all be feeling that pain more than we realize.

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