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TV Review, Showtime’s Episodes: Matt LeBlanc Outsmarts Joey

by Caryn James
January 5, 2011 4:12 AM
14 Comments
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Infotainment and the internet have created a country of show-biz insiders, shrewd about every Hollywood ploy. What dark corners are left after you’ve heard Mel Gibson rant? That makes satire harder to pull off than ever, and it doesn’t take much to see where Showtime’s new Matt LeBlanc series will go.

In the fiction within Episodes, a BAFTA-winning television series is bought as fodder for an American remake and LeBlanc is foisted on its creators as the star. Overnight, their glittering British comedy about a headmaster at a boys’ school becomes a series called Pucks! with LeBlanc as a hockey coach. Smartly, though, that premise is the least of it. The characters are beautifully played and sharply satiric, just this side of caricature. Soon the sly, witty Episodes soars beyond the obvious.

Although the series was created by David Crane, a co-creator of Friends, and Jeffrey Klarik, a writer for Mad About You, Episodes has none of that pat network tone. Playing a version of himself, LeBlanc finds humor in the distance between his dumb-Joey-from-Friends persona and the fictional “Matt LeBlanc,” giving the show a self-referential twist that evokes Extras, with Ricky Gervais as an extra and guest stars sending up their images, although it’s never quite as droll.

Sean and Beverly (Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig) are the husband-and-wife creators of the British show, which an American network president with the perfectly mercantile name Merc (John Pankow) gushes over and insists on buying – even though he has never seen it. By the end of the first episode, Sean and Beverly have been transplanted to a gauche L.A. mansion (the network had a leftover lease from a reality show) and Matt LeBlanc turns up as their worst casting nightmare.

The fictional Matt is smart -- that is, a smart enough Hollywood player to outwit the Brits. At a lunch meeting with Sean and Beverly he dismisses their little headmaster show by saying, “It’s History Boys,” and they look amazed that dumb-Joey has heard of the play.

Sean insists their show is completely different, and Episodes lets the joke sneak up on you.

“What’s it called?” Matt asks.

Lyman’s Boys,” says Sean.

That meeting happens in the second episode. LeBlanc is hardly in the first (premiering this Sunday), but Richard Griffiths, who actually was the headmaster in History Boys, is. He plays Julian, the actor who was the headmaster in Lyman’s Boys, auditioning for his old role. Episodes never clobbers you with these meta-references, it just deftly drops them in.

And every L.A. character is shaped as a satiric comment. Matt agrees to do the show because – big Hollywood cliche -- he needs the money to buy a restaurant. The network’s head of comedy is a woman whose permanent expression is a grimace. And Carol, Merc’s right hand, does more than lie. If she accidentally blurts out the truth she backtracks as if she hadn’t noticed.

After Matt is cast, Carol gushes to Beverly, “Merc’s excited about the show again!’

“When did he stop being excited?” Beverly asks.

“Never!” Carol says, in a cheerful, sing-songy voice. Kathleen Rose Perkins’ sparkling performance creates Carol as someone who believes every mis-truth she utters.

LeBlanc and “Matt” may be the stars, but Sean and Beverly are the characters on the head-turning adventure. She is the skeptic, with a serviceable cropped haircut and flowery dresses, which means she looks fine by regular-person standards and of course seems a hopeless frump in L.A.

Sean, who looks like a curly-haired doofus, is smart enough to know he’s being suckered into the Hollywood dream, but star-struck enough to fall for it anyway. It’s Sean who carries the show’s basic assumption about Hollywood, that metaphorical Hollywood of the crass success that everybody secretly wants, even artists: its seductions may be shallow but they are thoroughly irresistible. Sean is, uncomfortably and hilariously, all of us.

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14 Comments

  • Mark | May 3, 2012 10:03 AMReply

    Very much not funny.... completely over rated

  • Edward | March 28, 2011 1:04 AMReply

    I really loved the show and thought it was brilliant. I hope they come back with a great second season. Does anyone know why the first season was so short?

  • abhishek batra | March 10, 2011 7:00 AMReply

    Could anyone tell me if there has been more episodes of 'EPISODES' after the 7th one.. or the show has been taken off the air!!! Thanks.

  • rorkimaru | March 5, 2011 10:30 AMReply

    I really enjoyed the first season. At times Leblanc got a bit too "Joey" for me but after having played the character for over 300 episodes that's bound to slip in.

    I thought the majority of his performances were very good and some scenes were quite touching.

    Granted parts of the show fell flat but they can be forgiven by the dry whit that permeated it's entirety. Merc's assistant is a brilliantly played character and I hope his wife is developed further in the second series.

    Oh, and to further fuel the argument below, I don't like Ricky Gervais. I found the office to be horrendous trite, the episode he penned of the Simpsons managed to be worse than any of the other post season 12 episodes and his cameo appearances tend to make me want to blank out until he's gone.

  • Robert | March 1, 2011 7:43 AMReply

    Christian, I seriously doubt that my posts are 'peppered with mistakes. I can only see a semi-colon immediately preceded by a full stop (or period). All this grammar/spelling bitching, which started because I added an 'e' to Ricky Gervais's surname, detracts from the FACT that 'Episodes' was an embarrassing pile of unfunny, predictable trash!! Still, I suppose they do have to cater for the hard-of-thinking!

    Robert

  • Christian | February 27, 2011 5:49 AMReply

    Robert, and yet you did.

    Unlikely that I'll lose every time. If you want to look that close I think you'll find your posts are peppered with mistakes. Fair point though, I did cock up.

  • Christian | February 25, 2011 2:23 AMReply

    We don't just drink tea, that's the kind of highbrow joke you'd expect Merc to make. I'm British, I drink tea and coffee, and good coffee at that.

    I'd like to also point out you are currently using something called, "The Internet," Robert. If the spelling of someone's name escapes you then guess what? In-ter-net, and further more, Goo-gle. Comparisons to either Friends or Phone Shop are just plain silly. After panning the show quite viciously I think it's only fair to pick at you and you're mildly retarded criticisms.

    Episodes wont win any awards or become a modern classic, but it's a light slice of comedy pie with consistent characters and a handful of genuine laughs (Matt LeBlanc's "Yeah I'm fuckin' full of whimsy.") The acting is in fact good if a little played up at times, but this adds to the comedy and fits with the overall feel of the show. Really not garbage.

  • Robert | February 25, 2011 12:19 AMReply

    Christian, I didn't want to come back to this, but feel that I must. I think I made it clear that it was carelessness and haste which caused me to misspell Ricky Gervais's name (something which seems to have more significance than my criticism of this show). It was impossible to correct after posting so the awful deed was done. I am fully aware of the internet and Google but I can assure you that I need neither of them nor 'spell check' to assist me. You, however, should be made aware of the difference between 'your' (a possessive pronoun) and 'you're' (a contraction of 'you are') ! Please don't enter into a spelling/grammar contest with me as you'll (not Yule) lose every time. The tea reference was a light -hearted comment for our transatlantic friends and admittedly about as funny as the abomination that is 'Episodes'. If they make another series I will be horrified. NOT FUNNY- end of argument! Robert, England (home of Monty Python, Hancock,Extras, The Office, Rising Damp etc.etc.)

  • Sharonda | February 24, 2011 5:15 AMReply

    I actually love Episodes. I look forward to the new season. I appreciate the satire and dry humor. I appreciate the over-the-top representations of the network execs. And I also appreciate the lack of over explicit sex scenes that we've been subjected to by the other primier networks. I especially like Tamsin!!!! Please bring back Episodes for a new season!!!!!

  • Robert | February 24, 2011 2:03 AMReply

    Carole, please accept my sincere apologies for the misspelling (ooh, should that be hyphenated?) of Ricky's surname.; here it is in its correct form - Gervais. I noticed my error shortly after i posted my comment but alas! it was trop tard. I stick to my original assertion however, that the series was dreadful (only my opinion, natch). I was so disappointed, being a massive fan of FRIENDS and quite an admirer of Tamsin Greig (God! hope that's right), having seen her in 'Love Soup' amongst other things. I really don't want to get into an "I'm right and you're all wrong!" type argument , 'cos as you folks across the Pond say, it's just my 2 cents! Robert , England (Y'know that place where we just drink tea)

  • Carole | February 23, 2011 7:58 AMReply

    @ Robert: If you're going to praise Ricky Gervais, you should probably learn to spell his name correctly.

    BTW, I like him too, loved "Extras," and yet quite thoroughly enjoy "Episodes" as well. Go figure!

  • Tommy | February 22, 2011 2:33 AMReply

    Outstanding series, I always had a soft spot for Joey Tribbiani, but through "Episodes" we have witnessed the reinvention of Matt Leblanc. May he have a long and illustrious career after 'Joey' to showcase his talents. Cannot wait for next season, bring on the heavy weight guest stars who are bound to have been impressed by the masterpiece that was season 1.

  • Robert | February 22, 2011 12:36 AMReply

    I won't waste too much time: Absolute drivel! Weak storylines, poor acting all round, unbelievable lack of plot, predictable (aftershave) incidents. I could go on and on. Other than 'Phone Shop', the worst 'comedy' I have seen for a long long time. DON'T DARE mention Ricky Gervaise in the same breath! And this from the co-creator of FRIENDS? Obviously Marta Kauffman was the real talent there! An utter waste of time.... garbage!!!

  • Caroline | February 21, 2011 1:55 AMReply

    My husband and I love this show. At last - something different. adult, well acted and extremely funny. Just finished watching the last "episode" and can't wait for next season.

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