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TV review: Episodes season two starring Matt LeBlanc
Episodes' Tamsin Greig, Matt LeBlanc and Stephen Mangan. Image BBC
It's back! How you doin'? to the second season (or series) of the comedy in which Matt LeBlanc is a fictionalised version of himself, while Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan play an uptight English couple in LA.
The dire TV reviews for Episodes' show-within-a-show, Pucks! Too meta for words.
Matt LeBlanc's hand-job from the wife of obnoxious US network boss Merc Lapidus. It just fell flat. The scene's execution, I mean.
I shouldn't like Episodes as much as I do. I really shouldn't. And the mixed reviews for its first series underline that. Principally, its raison d'être is to be a satire on the machinations of Hollywood's TV world, as viewed through the eyes of Brit couple, Sean and Beverly Lincoln (Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan).
Lured to Los Angeles to adapt their acclaimed sitcom Lyman's Boys, originally headed by an erudite Shakespearian actor, La La Land's process soon mangles and morphs it into Pucks! starring Matt LeBlanc.
With Tinseltown's TV biz at its mercy, Episodes should be at its sharpest and smartest. Instead, this is where it's often at its weakest because it says nothing new or profound about its targets.
"it says nothing new or profound about its targets"
For example, the boorish US network boss played by Mad About You's John Pankow is as stock as they come. He's even banging his assistant Carol Rance (the superb Kathleen Rose Perkins, giving a performance way above her material).
In short, Extras, this ain't. But if it gets anywhere near to delivering the level of insight that distinguished Ricky Gervais' comedy, I'll let you know.
We pick up four months after the disastrous one-night stand between Beverly and Matt. Relations between the trio are understandably strained, but they strive to work together for the sake of Pucks!
Did the lukewarm critical reaction to Episodes strike a chord with writers David Crane (Friends) and Jeffrey Klarik (Mad About You)? In addition to the show-within-a-show element, we were treated to reviews for said show-within-a-show; "The New York Post: 'Pucks! sucks'." and "Entertainment Weekly; 'LeBlanc shoots le blank!'" were among my favourites. Reacting to Sean and Beverly's agony, Carol said: "No one cares about TV reviews!"
It was all so meta, I was actually squirming.
"Less successful were toothless potshots"
Less successful were toothless potshots aimed at the Hollywood wild child (epitomised by a Puck! cast member heading for his second marriage at the age of 27), and adult actors playing teenagers on TV.
"Pretty strange high school we're running," said Sean. "Hey, the kids aren't Glee-like in their 50s," his Puck! star retorted.
A pretty lame dig at Glee considering that this is pretty much par for the course. Haven't the writers heard of Beverly Hills 90210? Or Billy Bunter?
But Episodes' real strength lies in its performances and interplay. As amoral, sleazy, womanising Matt LeBlanc, actor Matt LeBlanc is simultaneously appealing and unappealing. It's a testament to his portrayal that the fictional Matt feels like a rounded character, and not just a gimmick.
What's more, he must be a good sport to put up with all the Joey Tribbiani jibes: "Matt LeBlanc's first show since Friends!" Merc Lapidus cries as he hails Pucks! Ouch.
Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan are also terrific as estranged couple Sean and Beverly. They both play off Matt superbly, with the differing dynamics adding an agreeable extra dimension; suppressed sexual tension between Beverly and Matt and the remnants of the endearing bromance between Sean and Matt.
Despite its flaws, I find myself drawn to Episodes for its soapy elements; when will Carol realise that Merc Lapidus is just using her? Is Mrs Lapidus aware of her husband's infidelity? Is that why she gave Matt the hand-job? Will Sean forgive Beverly? Will lonely Matt get his bestest buddy Sean back? Will Sean succumb to the double D-cup charms of Morning Randolph (played by Mircea Monroe)?
These questions, and many others, may be answered in the next episode of Episodes. In the meantime, I'll keep watching. It may not be the funniest satire on television, and it's certainly not the funniest satire about television, but it's a fun watch.
- Warm performances and just enough sharp writing to make Episodes worth your time.
TV quotes of the week - Episodes
"He's so good to her." - Carol praises Merc, the man she's having an affair with, for being a good husband. And no, she didn't see the irony.
"Sometimes I wonder why I even shave my legs." - Carol as she's stood up by Merc again. It's so hard being the mistress sometimes.
"I once did this Fox show about these three girls living together. I was the one with the smallest tits." - Busty Morning Randolph on her axed TV show; it's a tough world out there.
"I've missed this." - Matt's response to Sean admonishing him. And he totally means it.
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