Last season, I was on the fence about the Matt LeBlanc comedy, Episodes. I couldn’t decide exactly how I felt about it, although I found myself drawn to the show every week. First of all, it was a mix of British and American television comedy which is, for American television, I would argue, a bold step. I believe it was the shift in comedic sensibilities, between the British-ness of the UK leads Tasmin Greig and Stephen Mangan, the American-ness of Matt LeBlanc, and the overall satire of the television industry represented by the network honcho, Merc (John Pankow) and his pot-smoking creative exec who he screws, Carol (Kathleen Rose Perkins), that kept me a bit unbalanced. I started wondering if the average American audience would even understand the subtleties at play. Then I had to remind myself: this is pay cable, they can take these liberties. The fact I kept musing on this every week threw me. That isn’t the show’s fault, that is a sad commentary on the state of many television shows. Second, any television show with any of the Friends actors has to contend with their former respective roles on the popular sitcom. And yes, it took me a few weeks just to stop thinking of LeBlanc as Joey, even with the gray hair. Note to Matt LeBlanc: yes while you can pull off the gray hair, I honestly think you would look better with it gone. Your face is far too young to have old hair. It’s not a criticism, it is an observation. After getting past that small hurdle (yes, I am that shallow), it was hard knowing that I was going to be watching a train wreck because that is the only plausible outcome that can happen when bringing British TV writers/producers, in this case a married couple, into the very screwed up Hollywood system. Furthermore, it is clear their partnership and marriage would have to suffer as again, that seems to be par for the course for many couples in Hollywood when they first arrive and can’t help but be seduced. Even when they dislike the individuals they work with. I suppose, if nothing else, it should serve as a cautionary tale. A kind of — this is how not to screw up your life if you come to Hollywood manual.
The storyline of the first season is simple: Beverly (Tasmin Greig) and Sean (Stephen Mangan) get ‘invited’ to Hollywood to turn their hit British sitcom into an American television adaptation. By the end of the first series, the entire subject has changed from an old headmaster at a boy’s school to a youngish hockey coach (Matt LeBlanc) who flirts with the female school librarian at a boy’s school. And the title becomes Pucks!, one of the worst possible words for a title in the English language. Things get crazy for Beverly and Sean as they negotiate network politics and Sean’s infatuation with the actress playing Morning (Mircea Monroe), the librarian. By the end of the last episode, Beverly and Sean have a giant fight (row if you are British) and Beverly somehow ends up having sex with Matt LeBlanc even though she detests him. Sean finds out which leads to another fight/row, featuring Matt LeBlanc spraying Sean in the face with his signature cologne. It should not be missed as it is more of a girl fight and possibly the funniest scene in the first series. Just as the two might actually physically harm each other for real, they get a call with the worst possible news, the network has picked up the Pucks! pilot for the next season so everyone now has to work together. Just a note to anyone who hasn’t worked in film or television, you had better hope you like your co-workers because once something goes into production, you are looking at twelve to fourteen hour days at a minimum with those people and there is no escape.
Episodes is a joint financial venture between the BBC in the UK and Showtime in the US. It was created by former Friends‘ creator David Crane and former Mad About You producer, Jeffrey Klarik. In several interviews, Crane and Klarik explain how the process of working with a premium cable network affords far greater creative freedom than the regular American networks. Or even cable networks. They credit Showtime’s freedom with giving them the ability to hone the story lines and character arcs they didn’t always have the time to think out so intricately when working for network television since they could actually write all the scripts before anything was shot, a luxury network shows never get. This is also because there are far fewer episodes in premium cable shows (as well as all British series) so there is the possibility that some actual quality work can get done instead of pleasing focus groups and being slaves to ratings. And while we learn about the pilot process in the first series, since Showtime picked up the series for a second season, we get to learn about the pitfalls of producing a sitcom for a network, something Crane and Klarik have experienced — intimately.
In the Season 2 series premiere, we enter into a slightly more sedate world for Beverly and Sean when it comes to their marriage. They are now separated. Matt LeBlanc tries rectifying his friendship with Sean who wants nothing to do with Matt. Merc (John Pankow) still knows nothing about his own shows and continues his blatant affair with Carol (Kathleen Rose Perkins), the weed-smoking creative exec but Jamie (Genevieve O’Reilly), his blind wife, spices her life up a bit when she ends up deliberately giving Matt LeBlanc a hand job at the private screening premiere of Pucks! in their home. While Beverly deeply regrets her romp with LeBlanc, Sean is about to get the opportunity to enjoy a bit of revenge when Morning offers herself as his birthday gift. And yes, that really does happen in Hollywood. It’s clear this season will hold yet another high learning curve for Beverly and Sean, as Pucks! premieres to outstanding numbers and they are on top of the world but in previews we see the numbers plummet and everything starts to go wrong including LeBlanc’s starring role in the show in jeopardy. The real question will be what is going to happen with Sean and Beverly. Crane and Klarik have done an excellent job of taking a happily married couple and throwing them back into a status of utter uncertainty. I’m not on the fence any more, I enjoy the show thoroughly and can only hope for yet another cat fight between LeBlanc and Sean which I’m sure won’t happen but still… I can hope.
Watch the Episodes Season 2 premiere on Showtime while it is still available.