Starring: Polly Walker.
Two and out. That's the motto for a couple of returning HBO series that premiere their second and final seasons tonight.
"Rome" was done in, most likely, by its extremely high production cost. "Extras" executive producer Ricky Gervais said two was enough for his latest series, just as it was for the original British version of "The Office."
Caesar is dead, Atia (Polly Walker) is out to kill Servilia (Lindsay Duncan) and Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) is moping to such a degree that even his friend, Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson), may have a difficult time pulling Vorenus out of his funk.
So begins season two of "Rome" (9 tonight), HBO's most obtuse, impenetrable series. ("Rome" makes "Deadwood" seem like "Melrose Place" by comparison.)
The new season seems slightly less confusing, but still too many characters look alike (too many old men, too many dark-haired women) and a degree in ancient history would be helpful in understanding all of what happens. But with patience to reacquaint with the characters, "Rome" builds into a compelling, toga-clad soap opera.
Mark Antony (James Purefoy) plots for a political power grab, but he finds himself facing down young Gaius Octavian (Max Pirkis in early episodes and Simon Woods as an older Octavian). But evil Atia remains the most compelling character, and "Rome" always sparks more to life when she's on screen.
Getting to those moments can be a slog -- it's been more than a year since season one concluded and the story is so complex, keeping track of everything that's going on in "Rome" is like trying to remember characters and relationships out of a Dickens novel you read in high school -- but for die-hard fans, the new season should be worth the extra effort.
And you think the American version of "The Office" on NBC is uncomfortable to watch? Not by a long shot compared to the work of Ricky Gervais, seen above, star/writer of the original "Office," who extended his comedy of misery into "Extras" (10 tonight, HBO).
Gervais stars as Andy Millman, a shlubby guy who's been working as an extra in TV and film productions with best pal Maggie (Ashley Jensen, who plays the kind wardrobe mistress on ABC's "Ugly Betty").
As season two begins, Andy's prospects appear to be on the rise. He's sold a sitcom to the BBC and he gets one of the lead roles. Only problem? The network has meddled and turned it into something one critic called ... well, we can't say exactly (family newspaper and all), but it sounds like "sitcom" if Sienna Miller were picking the nickname.
So Andy is still depressed, but now thinks he's an artist and attempts to commiserate with David Bowie in an upcoming episode. The results are disastrous for Andy, painfully funny for viewers at home.
Maggie has somehow become an unwilling magnet for movie stars, spurning the advances of Orlando Bloom in tonight's episode and a horny Daniel Radcliffe (AKA Harry Potter) in an upcoming episode.
Meanwhile, Andy's ineffective agent (Stephen Merchant, who co-created "Extras" with Gervais) makes matters worse after Andy inadvertently insults a child with Down syndrome. The story gets mutated from what really happened even further and a national scandal ensues.
There's no question that "Extras" is a hoot, especially for anyone who spends much time observing the ins and outs of fame and the media, but Gervais is correct that less is more. We'll be happy for the "Extras" we've had and look forward -- anxiously, awkwardly -- and be prepared to cringe as we laugh at his next endeavor.