It's extraordinary to think the least talented actor in Friends, Matt LeBlanc, walked away with a Golden Globe for playing "himself" in BBC/Showtime's dimwitted Episodes. His performance perhaps rates as amusing (more so if you believe LeBlanc even has a persona to lampoon), but it was hardly an exceptional comic turn that made you reconsider him as an actor.
The show itself was a toothless satire, repetitively gumming away on targets as old as the hills. US television dumbs things down to appeal to more people? Middle-aged actresses have surgery to make themselves look young? Studio executives bullshit people who might make them money? If you thought any of that was revealing and fresh insight into Hollywood, I feel sorry for your limited view of things. Episodes failed to uncover anything fresh and interesting about stock targets, although the concept of British writers being put through the L.A grinder while "Americanizing" their award-winning sitcom was a decent starting point. I just found it all very inert and predictable. Have things improved for series 2?
On the evidence of this premiere, not really. Episodes picks up four months after the unsurprising climax of series 1, with Sean (Stephen Mangan) separated from wife/co-writer Beverly (Tamsin Greig) because she had a fling with Matt LeBlanc, the star of their atrocious sitcom Pucks! Now their pilot's been picked up by the studio, inexplicably, which means the three of them are forced back together for the purposes of making a whole season of television. This isn't such a terrible thing for the Lincoln's, who are genial around each other and show signs of mutual forgiveness, but the atmosphere around LeBlanc is frostier—especially when interacting with Sean, who saw LeBlanc as a genuine friend. Pucks! is getting bad press (one scene had meta fun ridiculing the poor reviews Episodes got), but ratings are surprisingly high, so it seems they'll have to work out their differences if they're to continue with the show. Or, more accurately for Sean and Beverly, continue living this American Dream that's become a nightmare.
The problems I had with Episodes last year are still present. It feels soul crushingly mediocre to me; making lazy observations about show business, which is frustrating coming from two American writers you'd think would have revelatory and unique stories about Tinseltown's uglier side. Alas no; in one scene a "teenager" playing a high school kid on Pucks! is revealed to be a twice divorced 27-year-old. Yes, adults play school kids on US TV shows. It's quite the revelation, no? No.
Episodes becomes better when it's focused more on the characters and their interactions. The best scenes tend to have nothing to do with the creation of Pucks! or the show's environment. Instead, it's nice to watch how Sean and Beverly deal with each other and egomaniac LeBlanc, especially in the wake of their marital strife. It's just a shame there's not enough to this soap-y circumstance to fuel a whole show. I suspect series 2 will be about the Lincoln's reconciling, even though Sean's now been kissed by the sexy Pucks! actress Morning Randalph (Micea Monroe), perhaps with the help of a contrite LeBlanc, all while reversing the inevitable decline of their show's ratings. I hope I'm wrong.
written by David Crane & Jeffrey Klarik / directed by Jim Field Smith / 11 May 2012 / BBC2