Is Episodes helped by how gooey it’s becoming? It’s always been a show that balanced two elements: Hollywood satire and Sean and Beverly’s soapy relationship troubles. That was a little more interesting as we watched their relationship disintegrate in season one, but watching them try to put it back together again this season is becoming a real drag.
For one, I’d be shocked if the season-two arc doesn’t end with Sean and Beverly reunited. There’s no one else for them to end up with: Sure, Beverly’s slept with Matt and Sean’s dallying with Morning, but there’s no effort to make them credible partners in the long term, while there’s plenty of time devoted to rekindling Sean and Beverly’s connection.
So watching Sean and Beverly run towards each other at the slowest speed possible is officially boring now. The climax of the season’s fourth episode sees the pair clutching each other as they skate around a rink. It’s perfectly sweet, and Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig are capable actors who can sell the emotion well. But this is an episode that began with a mediocre poop joke. There are shows that can blend tonal stuff like that without it seeming cheap, but Episodes is not one of them.
Fortunately, after last week’s sub-Entourage debacle, there was some vaguely interesting “meddling studio” material this week. Convinced that the only way to turn Pucks’ ratings around is by refocusing the show on the hot young kids, Carol basically forces Sean and Beverly to start writing Matt out of the show. Oblivious as sometimes he is, Matt figures it out, although he thinks it’s revenge for their little love triangle. Once he gets the real news, he confronts Merc, who asks him a brutally honest question: Would he rather be the star of a canceled show, or an ensemble piece in a hit?
Of course, that question would hit harder if it felt like Merc’s network remotely knew what it was doing, but you can’t spend too much time thinking about the internal mechanics of Pucks, because that’ll just shatter the whole illusion. Tonight’s episode is emblematic of Episodes’ shallowness problem. The conflict this week is a genuinely interesting one; shows do get restructured a lot early on, and lord knows the actors must realize what’s happening as they get scripts for every new episode. There’s some fun conflict to explore there.
But on Episodes, the whole thing is just brought up to serve the Sean/Beverly storyline. Matt is nearly driven to quit the show, but decides to stay once Beverly pleads with him to keep things alive so she can try and rescue her marriage. When you realize the whole episode is geared towards that moment, that’s not too satisfying. Merc and Matt’s conversation had a genuine edge to it—Merc’s advice made real sense, and he didn’t even invoke the specter of failure that already surrounds LeBlanc because of Joey (although there’s certainly plenty of allusions to that elsewhere). But we don’t even see Matt react to it—we just cut to him, giggling and drunk, having decided to quit the show.
There are five episodes to go here and even though there are stories that need resolving (Sean and Beverly’s marriage, Matt sleeping with Merc’s wife, Carol’s long road to independence) there isn’t enough material to sustain this show much longer. There have to be some left turns ahead, but right now, I’m left wondering what’s still in the tank.
- Merc doesn’t get why his network is being thrashed by dance shows. “Who wants to watch other people dance?”
- Merc compares his ratings troubles to 9/11. “This is not better than your holocaust analogy,” Carol notes.
- Matt has a stalker called Labia, who’s crazy, but hot. “And that's important in a stalker?” “It's important, period.”
- Matt understands the writing process. “I'm not sure the boys would want to go with you.” “Yeah, I can see that. Except you’re MAKING THEM UP. You can MAKE them want to go with me!”
- I don’t even know what to say about the Facebook jokes in this episode, but it felt like your parents telling you they had just signed up.
- Beverly can’t stand ice skating. “I don't understand the appeal of trying to balance on a floor made of ice with two knives strapped to my shoes!”