With Episodes, David Crane and Jeffrey Klarick, of Friends and Mad About You respectively, bring us a comedy that highlights the frenetic, flashy absurdity of Tinsel Town by juxtaposing it with the comparatively sober culture of English television. The jury is still out on the new half-hour Showtime series, which tenderly pokes fun at Hollywood’s phoniness with a kind of cutesiness typical of this self-conscious type of comedy. So far the show’s greatest asset – presumably Friends and Joey star Matt LeBlanc – has yet to truly emerge, an unusual and perhaps unwise tactic for an otherwise formulaic series premiere.
The first episode of Episodes introduces Beverly and Sean Lincoln (Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan), a married British couple who are the creators and writers of a popular, award-winning show in the UK. After an awards ceremony at which they reign supreme, the happy couple is approached by a smooth-talking, smarmy caricature of a Hollywood executive (John Pankow), who showers the duo with mindless flattery, telling them he loves their show so much that he “wants to have sex with it.” He then invites them to Los Angeles to work on making an American version of their program.
Uncertain and skeptical about the offer for fear of uncovering all the Hollywood clichés that are so gleefully exploited in this show, they decide to risk a temporary move just to see how the whole thing will pan out. They arrive in L.A. to find everything just as phony as they expected it to be, including the house in which the studio puts them up, which appears beautiful on the outside but is flimsy, hollow, and synthetic like a movie set. To make matters worse, the Lincolns soon find out that the American producers are trying to push out the loyal star of their high-brow comedy to insert a television star of their own – namely, LeBlanc. The Brits are flabbergasted, appalled and furious over the dismissal of their star, and they have little faith in LeBlanc’s talents, but they inexplicably continue to wait it out even before any contracts are signed.
LeBlanc is set to play himself playing someone else, in another of the show’s tiresome commentaries on the bizarre authenticity and meta quality of Hollywood. “Clever” writing gimmicks aside (which include the overused methods of backward storytelling and flashback), the one scene that features LeBlanc suggests that he might have enough charm needed to save the otherwise lukewarm cast and trite motifs. This scene, which falls early in the episode and therefore occurs chronologically later, is the only genuinely funny one so far, and it lasts all of 15 seconds, but it serves to introduce the remote possibility that the ol’ Friends scene-stealer can pull this one off if he’s prepared to do all the heavy lifting.