Tuesday, 18 January 2011

'EPISODES' 1.2 - "Episode Two"

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

A marginal improvement on the terrible premiere, but this was still a rather lethargic half-hour, only enlivened by a few funny scenes (such as insincere exec Merc rudely miming his disapproval of his blind wife's boring anecdote to their dinner guests.) Continuing immediately from last week, Beverly (Tamsin Greig) and Sean (Stephen Mangan) had to deal with pressure to accept Matt LeBlanc as the lead in their US remake of Lyman's Boys, forced to entertain the possibility of him joining the project over dinner, where LeBlanc was revealed to be easily distracted by texting and dismissive of the Lincoln's BAFTA-winning sitcom, which he thinks is a dull-sounding copy of History Boys.

"Episode Two" was notable because, exposition dealt with last week, it also introduced Matt LeBlanc properly, who is the undoubted draw for most viewers. The former-Friend is supposedly playing an exaggerated version of himself, but seeing as nobody knows what LeBlanc's supposed to be like in real life, that doesn't sound like an accurate description of what LeBlanc's been hired to do. Frankly, "LeBlanc" is as much an invention as "Joey" from Friends was; initially facetious and aloof, he later turned on the charm to ingratiate himself with the Lincoln's, but only to land himself a role in a TV show he's only interested in because he's been promised a literal truckload of money as payment.

LeBlanc played his moments well, and it undoubtedly helps the show to have a big name involved, although the attempts to make LeBlanc appear monstrous (um, he admitted to laughing at a documentary on children afflicted with Tourette's) weren't very shocking. Maybe he'll get worse, but I suspect Episodes is too cowardly to have LeBlanc play "himself" as someone truly despicable. We'll see. The BBC's Extras, which skewered the public image of celebs, once had British national treasure Ronnie Corbett snorting drugs in a toilet cubicle. It was funny and shocking for Brits who've grown up watching affable Corbett's comedies, but I don't think that kind of joke works on someone like LeBlanc. I mean, does he even have a public image to skewer? His showbiz presence, beyond the confines of playing Joey in Friends, is practically zilch. Episodes would be far better if LeBlanc's role had gone to a US actor with an off-screen persona interesting enough to twist into bizarre, dark shapes.

Still, I'd be lying if I said "Episode Two" didn't make me chuckle a few times. It was definitely easier to watch than last week's premiere, so it's moving in the right direction. It's just a pity so many of its targets are tired old clichés about US TV execs being hypocritical fools, and famous actors being money-grabbing manipulators. The Lincoln's themselves come across as naïve to the point of ridiculousness. Did they really think a provincial sounding show like Lyman's Boys wouldn't have to undergo serious changes for an American audience -- considering there are no British public schools run by headmasters in the US? They seem bewildered by the very notion it's not going to be a straight translation with different accents.

What did you make of "Episode Two"? Was it an improvement, or just more evidence this show's a bad idea? Did LeBlanc's blasé performance have you smiling, or are you perplexed they chose him as the big-name star? Are you interested to see where the story's going, even if you're not finding it very funny or clever?

WRITERS: David Crane & Jeffrey Klarik
DIRECTOR: James Griffiths
TRANSMISSION: 17 January 2011, BBC2/HD, 10/10.30PM