Maggie Jacobs

Written by @EllieDangerous
While seagulls sang their hearts away, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant introduced us to two of the most believable dolts on TV. Some reviewers jumped on Andy Millman as the star of ‘Extras’, but the series itself tells a bigger story — one that’s shared equally between him and Maggie Jacobs, a delightful baffoon made real by actor Ashley Jensen and a subtle bit of storytelling.

Spoiler Alert
Gerv and Smerch have an excruciatingly funny habit of revolving their comedy around social ineptitude. And in ‘Extras’, two characters channel that theme equally — Andy, whose ineptitude stems from trying and failing, and Maggie, who doesn’t even try. She just bumbles around like a moth following the light. Awkwardness is at the darkly amused heart of ‘Extras’, and is shared between its two leads. If you think it’s all Andy’s then you’re either barking up the wrong tree or ignoring the one next to it.

Another reason why ‘Extras’ is as much Maggie’s story as Andy’s is that these are two people who are having trouble catching up with their fellow adults. Everyone is so much more successful than they are (piss off, Greg), everyone’s so much more popular and happy. Andy and Maggie are down on their luck, and at first it seems that Andy is more so because at least Maggie seems fine with her lot. Blissfully ignorant about her woes, you could say.

But then Andy points out to her the harsh realities of her childlike existence, and she opens her eyes to very nearly nothing. At least Andy has ambition. Maggie comes to realise that her lack of drive has resulted in a patchwork CV of lowly standards, and she’s always looking for romance but is perpetually single. Although usually amused by his friend’s blissful ignorance, in a moment of anger Andy enlightens her as to just how ill-fated she is. It’s a low moment for him… but a lower one for her.

Last but not least, there’s one prevailing reason as to why ‘Extras’ is as much about Maggie as it is about Andy: they’re a double-act. You can’t have a friendship when there’s just one of you. These two laugh, bicker and philosophise their way through life together, more comfortable with each other than they are with themselves. That’s not Andy leading the way — that’s a partnership. A hilarious, excruciating, marvellous partnership.

Ah hang on, there’s one last thing. One more reason why Maggie’s role in ‘Extras’ is bigger than you might think. She’s totally Karl Pilkington. You know Karl, right? One of Ricky and Stephen’s best friends, a mundane sceptic with a head like a fucking orange. Sure Maggie isn’t as dull and deadpan as Karl, but her obliviousness is straight out of his orange. So with Karl as an influence, of course she’s going to shine.

But I think the main reason why Maggie is so well written and performed has nothing to do with how funny or warm she is. It’s more about her ironic subtlety. Initially she’s bouncing through life quite without complaint, but her increasing enlightenment heightens the drama of her story as we go, until by the end of it it’s reached boiling point and we’ve barely noticed. She’s a frog in a frying pan, and that may make her arc quieter than Andy’s, but no less effective.

So ‘Extras’ is the story of two equal souls, without question. Actually, sorry, there is one question: would you rather have a bionic arm or a bionic leg?
BAFTA Reporter: “Who are you wearing?“
Maggie: “Maggie.“
BAFTA Reporter: No, who are you wearing?“
Maggie: “Maggie Jacobs.“
Andy: “No, whose dress is that?“
Maggie: “Mine.“
Andy: “He doesn't think you're a racist.“
Maggie: “He does! He's just seen me say to a black woman, "You're not allowed to sit on this bus." It's like that whole racism-on-a-bus incident all over again.“
Andy: “What, the Rosa Parks incident?“
Maggie: “It wasn't in a park, it was on a bus.“
Andy: “Sure.“
You’re always saying, "He's got an acting part" that you wanted, or, "He's got credibility and he doesn't deserve it." If you worry about things like that, you're never going to be happy. No matter how successful you get, you'll never be famous enough.
Ellie Ball is the founder of Good Characters, and someone who enjoys coffee cake a great deal. She is a graduate of the Scriptwriting MA at Goldsmiths, University of London. For fun and respite, check out her TV analysis articles on Bang2Write or tweet coffee cake at her @EllieDangerous.
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Published on 28 January 2016
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