Archive | July, 2012

Episodes: some thoughts on the series and the Season 2 premiere

19 Jul

Episodes Season 2 Promo Poster

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.

Showtime’s Summer Dramedy Hour is back: Weeds and Episodes premiere, part 1

10 Jul

Weeds Season 8 Promo Poster

I always like to wait a bit before I judge. I’ve spent time mulling over both of Showtime’s summer Dramedies:  Weeds and Episodes.  While Episodes can be thought of as an understated comedy that satirically examines the television industry, from concept of a series to its premiere, Weeds can be seen as a black comedy that looks at everything in the most pessimistic possible light.  It isn’t completely clear why Showtime decided to give Weeds one final season to wrap everything up since the end of Season 7 was satisfying in a Botwinesque way:  Nancy (Mary-Louise Parker) gets shot and will she survive?  Sometimes it is better to leave an open ending.  American audiences hate open endings though.  They want closure.  In reality, closure is rarely something anyone gets to experience and that is most likely why the American television audience craves knowing a clear outcome. This is usually to the detriment of the storytelling process.  I hope it won’t be true for the final season of Weeds.

Shane (Alexander Gould) dealing with the neighbors after Nancy’s shooting.

In the Season 8 premiere of Weeds, “Messy,” we pick up right where we left off at the end of last season:  with Nancy having just been shot.  In the head.  Ironically this happened in her seemingly safe suburban mansion, in Old Sandwich, CT.  The title, “Messy,” comes from one of my favorite scenes of the episode, when two exceedingly old neighbors climb on ladders to snoop over the fence and see what happened at the Baldwin compound.  If Jenji Kohan got one thing right in this episode, it was the obnoxious behavior of the elderly wealthy residents of Connecticut.  I’m sure there are some very nice elderly people in Connecticut but my personal experience was almost the same while I lived in the uh, nutmeg state – I would sometimes find my landlords standing at the window staring inside trying to eavesdrop. I was brought back to that creepy experience as I watched the busybody neighbors from Old Sandwich comment on the “messy” lives of the Baldwins.  Connecticut hates messy.  Ironic that it is safer to walk around East Harlem than parts of New Haven and Bridgeport, but who am I to judge?  A disgruntled Californian, I guess.

I had pretty much given up on Weeds by the end of last season.  In fact, the only reason I watched it was because I was living in East Harlem at the time, and I could relate to Nancy’s plight of the halfway house, as I was job hunting and staying at a former friends’ condo (yes former, a story which I am sure I can relate to another cable show’s episode considering my life is surely as messy as any fictional characters’), when Weeds aired last year.  And as that bullet rang out at the end of last season, I thought it was a fitting and somewhat sophisticated way to end the series.  I will admit I was highly skeptical when I discovered there was going to be a final season of the series.

But I digress.  We quickly join Silas (Hunter Parrish) and Nancy in the ambulance witnessing Nancy make sexual references to the paramedic in front of her son while shot in the head, bleeding and possibly near death.  And that is the last we hear from her in the episode since she is put into a medically induced coma.  This episode is about Nancy’s family and friend’s reactions to her – tragedy.  Shane (Alexander Gould) at once becomes a predator and a cop, trying to chase down the gunman and then investigate the crime since he is secretly enrolled in the NYPD police academy.  I won’t reveal the shooter’s identity specifically, only to say, it is a former step-child of Nancy’s.  Someone I didn’t even remember existed and a bit disappointing for the triggerman.

Doug (Kevin Nealon) is inappropriate as always, hiding under the table after Nancy is shot (I secretly don’t blame him) and then later feeling her up while she is in a medically induced coma.  Very bad form, even for Doug.

Nancy’s sister, Jill (Jennifer Jason Leigh), inappropriately has sex with Andy (Justin Kirk) in the hospital room next to the bed where Nancy slumbers in her coma. Andy later has a conversation with a Rabbi in the hospital cafeteria.  Very Andy-esque.  Finally, Jill’s evil twin demon daughters post a picture of Nancy online after she has been shot.

Nancy’s (Mary-Louise Parker) shooter returns to her hospital room.

Nancy’s shooter comes back to the hospital to either finish the job he started or muse on his feelings about attempted murder.  Either way, he is interrupted by Nancy’s roommate’s daughter who has been walking in on inappropriate activities throughout the episode.  Nancy must sense danger as she seems to go into cardiac distress as the episode ends.

Will Nancy die? I doubt it.  Only nice people die young.  Evil people live to ripe old ages.  As my father said about one of my mother’s aunts, she was so mean, even the cancer couldn’t stand being in her.  I kind of see Nancy in the same light, though I still enjoy watching her mess up everyone’s life.

And if you think things are screwed up for the Botwins, they are not that much better for Beverly and Sean in Episodes which I will be happy to discuss in my next installment…

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