There’s nothing wrong with Episodes. As a TV satire, it’s relatively toothless. As a spoof of celebrity life, it’s not that insightful. Its lead characters are sympathetic, but still don’t feel richly drawn. But there’s nothing wrong with the show—it’s always been a pleasant-enough viewing experience, with the sense that there’s more ground that could be covered. It wasn’t a huge surprise that the show got a second season, since it’s a Showtime co-production with the BBC that can’t cost either company that much money and it received a couple Emmy nominations. But there’s a slight sense that no one knows where to go with it.
Season one took us through the wrenching transformation of a (supposedly) charming hit British comedy into a lame American network sitcom, mostly through the interference and neglect of exec Merc Lapidus (John Pankow), who installs Matt LeBlanc in the lead instead of a hoary old English thesp. Writers Sean (Stephen Mangan) and Beverly (Tasmin Greig) watch the whole thing unfold with horror, and their marriage collapses as Sean flirts with actress Morning (Mircea Monroe) and Beverly sleeps with Matt in a fit of pique. Then, it turns out the show tests huge, so they get picked up.
As a setup for a second season, that’s not bad. Sean and Beverly’s shock and disgust at their success is reminiscent of the second season of Extras, where Andy Millman achieves his dreams of fame acting in a show he can’t stand. But Extras was a show with a more melancholy tone, while Episodes is already struggling to wring much drama or comedy from the situation.
Half of the show is straight Hollywood satire, although it doesn’t delve too deep. Merc remains a one-dimensional parody of a studio exec, treating his wife horribly, sleeping with his co-worker, seemingly oblivious to everything he’s producing until he realizes it’ll make him money. His mistress Carol (Kathleen Rose Perkins) is one of Episodes’ strongest elements and has an enjoyable sarcastic edge, but she’s mostly employed as a sounding board for Beverly and is stuck with a dull plotline (her clandestine relationship with Merc).
In the second-season première, Pucks debuts and is a big hit—specific ratings are mentioned, but Sean and Beverly can’t make sense of them because they’re daffy Brits who don’t know what numbers mean. Morning warns that this was just an audience sampling and things could go down next week, which is obviously true, but hardly the inside scoop on television production one might expect from such an insider-y show. There are also scattered jokes about Matt stealing expensive costumes and the actors playing teenagers actually being in their late 20s. As previously mentioned, it’s all pretty toothless. There were some moments in Episodes’ first season that had bite: Richard Griffiths’ mortifying audition scene in the pilot springs to mind. But so far there’s nothing in season two that a college student with a subscription to Variety couldn’t tell you.
Mixed in with the showbiz spoofery is the soapy relationship stuff, mostly the fallout from Sean and Beverly’s separation. Beverly is hopeful that she can patch things up, and is now willing the show’s success just to keep the two of them together. Sean, still heartbroken, has the same easy chemistry with her but is still repelled by Beverly and Matt, and by the end of the episode is making out with Morning, which, fine. There’s some flim-flam with a birthday gift from Beverly in Sean’s car, but it’s hard to get excited by all these specifics. Sean and Beverly seem nice together, but it’s not a romance you’re really rooting for, especially since other elements of the show are (slightly) more interesting.
The first episode of a new season is there to set the table for the upcoming plot arcs, especially for a premium-cable show like this one that’s only airing nine episodes. So we’ve got the possible success of the mediocre Pucks, Sean and Beverly’s stalled marriage, Matt possibly having an affair with Merc’s wife, and Carol being bored and irritated at her boss. That’s not going to be enough to sustain nine episodes, so I hope there’s something, anything, on the horizon.
- The reviews for Pucks are in: “The New York Post: PUCKS SUCKS!”, EW: “LeBlanc shoots a LeBlank.”
- Merc throws a party and happily ignores history. “How could I not? Matt LeBlanc’s first show since Friends?”
- LeBlanc is still having fun, by the way—his attempts to reconnect with Sean are way more involving than Beverly’s.
- I especially liked his reaction to the ratings. “Take that Myron Blum of the Boston Herald, with your ‘I don’t know who this show is for,’ it’s for everyone but you, cockface!”