Tuesday, 22 February 2011

'EPISODES' 1.7 - "Episode Seven"

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

After nearly two months, that's the finale? While Episodes showed signs of life in "Episode Four" and "Five", the show completes its run with an entirely predictable and largely unfunny installment. Everything you'd expect to happen following the events of last week, happened. And without the laughs or drama to cloud that disappointment, the show came to a non-resolution that teased a second season I can't imagine many people craving.

We opened on Beverly (Tamsin Greig) and Matt LeBlanc sharing the horribly clichéd post-coital cigarette, before being told husband Sean (Stephen Mangan) never slept with Morning (Mircea Monroe) so she can't even blame this indiscretion on petty revenge. Filming on the Pucks pilot wrapped with false delight ("what a wonderful couple of weeks it's been"); the studio suits squirmed as unreasonable Merc (John Pankow) ranted about the poor quality of pilots this year; and Sean deduced that LeBlanc slept with his wife thanks to a cinnamon cologne called "Joey", leading to a very unfunny and protracted fight at LeBlanc's beach house.

A great deal of this finale just didn't work for me. The underlying problem was how unsurprising everything was, and how a resolution didn't materialize because it chose to end on a cliffhanger -- with the Lincoln's told Pucks is a surprise hit with test audiences and being taken to series. Season 2 would assumedly involve the Lincoln's facing the daily pressures of having to run a sitcom expected to churn out 20-odd episodes every year, leading a writers' room of unavoidably quirky characters, with the simmering resentment between them and their show's lead actor. While there's a small part of me that would like to see Episodes sink its teeth into some of that stuff, if that's the direction they decide to take, I'm not particularly interested in seeing where the main characters go from here.

Episodes felt like it should have been a one-off miniseries, and given the weak ratings for Showtime I'm not expecting it to be renewed. Its quality doesn't really justify a revisit; the comedy wasn't very funny, the drama wasn't very dramatic. The actors gave it their best shot, but the writing squandered the potential of having LeBlanc subvert his "public persona", probably because he doesn't actually have one to subvert. It was also very choppy in how it chose to flesh out LeBlanc's character. What happened to his ex-wife and kids, introduced in "Episode Four" and swiftly forgotten about?

Overall, Episodes is a show that picked fairly lazy targets, ridiculed them without ever going for the jugular, and proceeded to stir the pot in the same way every week. Merc's a hypocritical schmoozer, we get it! It always presented the Lincoln's as being in the right over how best to remake Lyman's Boys, failing to show enough of a flipside (beyond that scene where LeBlanc made Sean realize writing a straight man's unrequited love for a lesbian is a limiting creative choice.) The only time the show came to life, for me, was when it focused less on the showbiz trappings and more on personal stuff like Beverly's jealously of Sean's interest in a sexy work colleague and friendship with a celebrity she's grown to despise.

Episodes was an interesting Anglo-American experiment that's divided critical opinion (I've read reviews that claim it's the funniest and sharpest thing on TV in years, which boggles my mind), but for me it was mostly a failure. If a comedy-drama doesn't make you care for the characters or laugh very often, what more really needs to be said?


  • I found Daisy Haggard's Head of Comedy very funny in "Episode One", but her return here made me realize how Episodes has evolved in my estimation. Initially, laughs were so lacking that I latched onto Haggard as someone delivering the goods (a comedy boss with the fixed expression of someone permanently smelling farts), but the show became more grounded after "Episode Two", so her shtick looked very misplaced here.
  • Was "Joey" a real cologne released when Friends was at its '90s peak?
written by David Krane & Jeffrey Klarik / directed by James Griffith / 21 February 2011 / BBC2/HD