The season (possibly series!) finale of Episodes is almost upon us and I’d love to say there’s some forward momentum as we head there. That’d be pushing it, though. In tonight’s episode, there’s a shakeup at the Pucks studio, Matt sleeps with his stalker, and Sean is alarmed at Beverly’s new relationship, but none of these stories feel that consequential.
The first season had very specific plotting, starting with an in medias resevent that wasn’t resolved until the last episode, and methodically charting the corruption of Pucks (and Sean and Beverly’s marriage) from casting to plotting to shooting. Things grew occasionally tiresome since it was obvious where everything was heading, but there was undeniable drive to it.
One of season two’s problems has been a lack of such coherence. Sean and Beverly’s tentative efforts to reunite aside, there’s nothing holding the show together. Pucks has become an afterthought—Episodes is a workplace sitcom, and while Pucks is undeniably bad, everyone has just accepted that and moved on. The only scenes that take place on the lot involve Sean and Beverly gossiping, usually about Matt’s latest screw-up, or possibly goings-on at the studio. The actors, the process of making the show, the studio meddling? It’s not forgotten, but it’s certainly not being mined for dramatic purposes any longer. Maybe there’s a weird realism there—if you’re on a bad show, you’re still under contract and making money, so you probably don’t let it get to you too much.
Still, Matt’s going pretty stir crazy between his faltering career and his supposed weight gain, so he sleeps with his stalker Labia and then possibly screws his life up. The inevitable revelation of the incident to his ex-wife is seemingly around every corner, and it comes at the end of tonight’s episode (Matt is suitably upset about it).
There are characteristics to like about Labia: Her overture to Matt about loving him after everyone else has forgotten him is nicely done. But the whole thing feels stupid, even for this exaggerated version of Matt LeBlanc. He’s not the flavor of the month anymore, but if he really felt inadequate, he could probably do better than dialing up his stalker. In season one, there was more of an idea of Matt going to clubs and drunkenly picking up women; now he’s just a goddamn hermit.
Sean and Beverly continue at such a snail’s pace that I don’t even know what to say anymore. It’s extremely symbolic, I think, that Beverly’s second date with Rob comes a night after the first one and is at the same restaurant, just so the show doesn’t have to build another set. Okay, that’s probably not the only reason, but it helps make the show feel even more stagnant. (On a semi-related note, James Purefoy is still ably struggling with that accent) This time, things go well enough for Beverly to throw caution to the wind and make out with Rob, which gives us one episode to resolve things. Still more than enough time. Sean and Beverly love each other and are compatible; they just need to get over their understandable hangups about the sex they’ve had with other people. The writers probably decided nine episodes is enough time.
The plot with the most drive is Merc’s firing at the studio. The terrifically named studio chief Elliot Salad meets with Carol to confirm the news, and then she densely doesn’t understand that he wants her to replace him. Come on, Carol! What other character is there on this show?
Merc’s downfall is something to look forward to, but there’s a whiff of Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip’s lame attempts at TV satire with this whole “talking dog” show. It was fine as a throwaway joke—Pucks is losing to a show about a talking dog, American society is in decline, etc. But we’re being beaten over the head with it at this point. The talking-dog show seems to be the next American Idol, and Merc’s head is rolling just for not picking it up. Are we now supposed to think he’s some martyr striving for more cultured television? After all, this is the guy who created Pucks and scoffs at the idea of reading a book.
- Merc fails to defuse the tension with his staff. “FYI, you all get buried in the pyramid with me.”
- The funniest scene is probably the one with the execs pitching supernatural concept shows and Myra’s insistence on gypsies. “Gypsies are real.” “I don’t think so.”
- Elliot Salad is not fond of Pucks. “What are you paying LeBlanc? I’d pay that much to watch the dog eat him.”