June 15th, 2009
I should like to go on the record now and state that of the past ten years, one of the outstanding geniuses when it has come to television credits music is Ricky Gervais. No, seriously. He took two rather obscure pieces in the pop/folk rock universe and turned them into great songs that capture the emotional core of each series he's done.
For his series The Office, he used a version of Handbags and Gladrags, made famous by Rod Stewart back in 1970 (he covered it off some other artist, but no matter.) It's a real bitter song aimed at a materialistic teenage girl:
So what becomes of you, my loveStereophonics did a cover of it a while back, but I prefer the original, even over the new version recorded for The Office (it has some unnecessary over-saxophony saxophone in it, I think. Nyer.)
When they have finally stripped you of
The handbags and the gladrags
That your poor old granddad had to sweat to buy you?
Gervais' next series was Extras, in which he played Andy Millman, a professional extra who performs background parts -- but no speaking roles yet -- in various motion pictures filmed in Britain. He hangs out between takes with his friend and coworker Maggie, and they have little Seinfeld-ian conversations about nothing or neuroses. There's at least one or two great celebrity cameos in each episode, which chronicles Andy's constant attempts to wrangle a speaking part and his inept agent (played brilliantly by Stephen Merchant) who does absolutely nothing to help.
Most every episode ended in some kind of defeat or Phyrric victory for Andy, and that's when the first few piano notes of Cat Stevens' Tea for the Tillerman would come in. It's a beautiful, sad, lonely piece. The shot cuts to credits on a black background just as Cat starts singing.
Bring tea for the tillerman,A full on stereo chorus joins Cat on that very last "Happy Day" and fills the entire piece rather suddenly. And then, as the last little piano coda plays out, there's usually a shot of someone in the show in one final tiny joke (Gervais did that with The Office too.)
Steak for the sun
Wine for the women who made the rains come
Seagulls sing your hearts away
Cause while the sinners sin, the children play
Oh lord, how they play and play
On that happy day, on that
And that's it.
The best thing about this theme is that it works over both series of Extras. See, at the beginning of the second series, Andy's finally gotten his big break: a television show and a starring role at that. Problem is, his show is one of those lame, cliched, formulaic sitcoms which pander to the lowest common denominator and relies on a catch phrase or two for audience loyalty (the show-within-a-show, When The Whistle Blows, is hilariously terrible in almost every conceivable way.) And every time an episode ends that season, it's typically with Andy sitting there trying to figure out what the hell is happening. He's got that happy day, now, but it's horrible. And here's that lonely little piano piece again. Nicely done.
Ricky Gervais' style of comedy deals mainly with putting himself and his friends and associates into humiliating predicaments. It's cringe humor, and sometimes it's very difficult to watch, especially as whatever situation they're in inevitably escalates beyond everyone's comfort zone. And yet, these two bitter and sad songs soften it all in a way. They invoke the mood before and after each episode.
In short, they're just two very good musical choices, and I thank you for your time.
Can't do Gervais. I can't handle cringe-humor at all. Heck, I only made it halfway through Borat because of the cringe factor.