Episodes: Season 1 — a review

poster-episodes-season-1

I’m returning to my old form here, watching a television series after it’s been off the air for a couple of years. I wish I had “discovered” this one sooner.

I was aware that the Showtime series Episodes existed. And, I knew that it starred Matt LeBlanc playing some version of himself. Subconsciously, I think, I filed this away as being like Curb Your Enthusiasm, in which Larry David plays a fictionalized (I hope) version of himself. I knew the series was receiving some good reviews as well, but that was about the extent of my knowledge.

For a while now, I seem to have been avoiding watching comedies except for the few television shows that Sharon and I like to watch on current TV. After finishing up the bulk of my huge Star Trek viewing project (pretentiously titled Boldly Going, if you’re interested, and an on-going writing project for some time to come, I think), I’ve found myself on a comedy jag. I’ve logged some streaming hours watching The Good Place, New Girl, Friends from College, I’m Sorry, and, now, Episodes. I’ve re-discovered my ability to laugh at something other than the laughably bad third season of TOS.

Episodes is on Netflix, which made it convenient to watch. Up front, I’m going to admit that Matt LeBlanc was my least favorite male member of the Friends main cast, although David Schwimmer often gave him a run for last place. Not that you’ve asked, Courtney Cox took that dubious honor on the distaff side. I knew about the failed spinoff of Friends titled Joey that never found its audience. I never watched an episode. I also knew he was in that Lost in Space movie that tanked, and I believe I watched about thirty minutes of that one. All of these facts, by the way, are grist for the character mill in Episodes. LeBlanc is playing that Matt LeBlanc, who used to be Joey, which made him rich, but is generally considered a failure outside of Friends. On this series, he rises above that potentially sad characterization by being an arrogant, narcissistic Hollywood actor with a huge—er—ego, who still manages to be quite charming even when recklessly pursuing self-gratification. His work on this show has raised my opinion of him considerably, to the point that I may one day watch his new network series.

And he is now my second-favorite male character on Friends. I’ll always be a Chandler guy.

Episodes is an American-British production created by David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik. Crane was one of the creators of Friends. Klarik is another prolific television guy and Crane’s life partner. The series premiered on Showtime and BBC simultaneously.

The show’s premise is that a British husband-and-wife comedy writing team make the trip to Hollywood to remake their successful British TV series. Much like what happened with The Office. Of course, Hollywood wants to change nearly every important thing about the show in the process, including casting Matt LeBlanc in the lead role and changing his position from prep school headmaster to hockey coach, and changing the name of the show from Lyman’s Boys to Pucks!

All of the humor of the series is derived from the premise. Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig are Sean and Beverly Lincoln, the married British couple bringing their television show to Hollywood. I misspoke when I said Matt LeBlanc was the star of this series. This is Sean and Bev’s show. Matt is a supporting actor at best. The actors are funny, in that particularly British dry, acerbic way that I enjoy, and their story is the important arc in the series. Mr. Mangan is new to me, but I remember Ms. Greig from Black Books. I loved her in that series, and now in this one as well.

I’m always a sucker for character-driven stories, and this one is chockful of characters.

Aside from Sean, Beverly and Matt, we have Merc Lepidus, the president of the un-named network that Pucks! is aired on, played by John Pankow. He has a blind wife, whom he’s cheating on with his head of programming, Carol Rance. Carol becomes Beverly’s closest friend in the States. Mircea Monroe is Morning Randolph, Matt’s co-star on the sitcom. The running joke is that Morning is a lot older than people think she is, kept looking young and fresh through plastic surgery. I remember Monroe from the series Impastor. I always liked her.

Sean and Beverly came to conquer Hollywood in the first season, only to have Hollywood attempt to destroy their relationship. Matt LeBlanc is like a force of nature in this story, and the central agent of change in the lives of the Lincolns. This is a satirical skewering of the American television industry wrapped in a relationship drama and put inside the box of a near-slapstick physical comedy. We have to resist calling this a dramedy, because that adds baggage that this sitcom really doesn’t need to carry.

The bottom line is that I liked this a lot. I fully intend to watch the rest of it, and as I write this review, I genuinely wonder where it’s headed.

Season 1 Report Card: A-minus

A-minus

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