I was led to believe Episodes radically improves from "Episode Four" onwards, but this was the week asphyxiation with a cushion felt preferable to watching the interplay between Matt LeBlanc, Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig. I don't actually blame the actors (particularly the latter pair, who could hardly refuse leading roles in a US comedy from a co-creator of Friends), but LeBlanc's proving to be every bit as mind-numbing as his post-Joey career would have you suspect. I'm sure he's a nice guy in real life, and I can see the appeal of playing yourself to someone with his narrow range, but Episodes is terribly dull and a waste of his and everyone else's time.
This week, after some pointless preamble about Beverly (Greig) being incensed by the fact LeBlanc's co-star in Pucks looks 25 but is secretly older than she is (mid-40s), the "story" began. LeBlanc lost custody of his two children, got drunk at a bar, called Sean (Mangan) to pick him up, was visibly annoyed when Beverly joined her husband on the hour-long drive, tricked them both into chauffeuring him to his ex-wife's house, then showed them his cute boys while they slept. It was an episode intended to give us a breakthrough between LeBlanc and Beverly, who hate each other, by showing Beverly the softer, parental side to LeBlanc. It even ended with a moment where LeBlanc called Beverly by her real name, rather than "Betsy", and was allowed to crash as their house like a naughty teenager who's phoned his parents after a wild party got out of hand.
Only, in the very next scene, the previous night's developments were swiftly undone: a sober LeBlanc was back to calling Beverly "Betsy", it was revealed he snuck a bimbo into his room while they were asleep (seriously, that's so out of order), and the atmosphere returned to prickly. So what was the point of this episode, exactly? To show a softer side to LeBlanc? All very well, but has he really come across as anything but a little egotistical and rude? It's hardly been an outrageously funny and brave performance that's made you marvel at how far LeBlanc's prepared to poke fun at people's preconceptions of him. The episode softened an already soft target of gentle ridicule.
I didn't really buy into the situation with LeBlanc's broken family life, either -- and a quick browse of the actor's Wikipedia page seems to prove the truth of things has been altered for the purposes of this show. LeBlanc actually has two step-kids and a daughter with ex-wife Melissa McKnight. Plus, he's dating his Joey co-star Andrea Anders, who was so hilarious in Better Off Ted it's a shame she isn't playing herself in this series. That's the kind of meta-comedy universe I wish Episodes was playing with. Heck, a few barbed remarks from LeBlanc about his Friends co-stars wouldn't go amiss!
The satire's toothless, the characters spin in circles, the comedy doesn't catch fire -- it's an intolerable, oppressively unfunny mess.
- Is anyone else irritated that Sean and Beverly only grumble about their comedy being ruined for American consumption, but don't actively fight against the stupid changes? In this episode, which barely featured any of the usual TV production scenes, they now seem resigned to the fact Pucks is a travesty. It's hard to care about the Lincoln's situation if they appear to have accepted it themselves, and are getting paid a fortune to create this pilot.
WRITERS: David Krane & Jeffrey Klarik
DIRECTOR: James Griffith
TRANSMISSION: 31 January 2011, BBC2/HD, 10/10.30PM