Although Breaking Bad gets consistently shafted by awards ceremonies in recognition of its phenomenal writing, those of us who enjoy high quality scripted television can at least take comfort from the fact that it, and well-written shows like it, are starting to once again get the credit they deserve from audiences. And yet, every now and then you have shows like Showtime’s comedy Episodes, which get lost in the shadow of the more celebrated darlings like Dexter and Mad Men, despite their strong comedy writing and a superb cast of Tamsin Grieg, Stephen Mangan, and Matt LeBlanc being funnier than he’s ever been before as a fictionalized version of himself. The show is consistently funny in its send up of the incredibly hypocritical douple-speak of the entertainment industry, and from the first season to the second it kicked into a higher gear, increasing substantially in hilarity.
Having just won an award for their well-written British comedy series, Beverly (Greig) and Sean Lincoln (Mangan) are approached by Hollywood producer Merc Lapidus (John Pankow) who wants to adapt their British show for an American audience, but he wants to do it “right”—a lie told seemingly everyday considering the number of British series undergoing that process in the last few years. Promising Beverly and Sean that they’ll keep the original scripts and spirit of the show intact, Merc convinces them to sign on and soon the married writing duo are moving into a huge house in LA and starting their first round of network talks. And then, with a crash and Merc’s assistant Carol (Kathleen Rose Perkins) as their guide, they come to know the true nature of the Hollywood monster: Merc has never seen the show and if it’s going to have any chance in the US markets Beverly and Sean will have to replace the elderly headmaster with a young hockey coach played by Matt LeBlanc. Changing everything the show was, they manage to crank out a pilot just in time for the dynamic between Matt, Beverly, and Sean to explode into a thousand pieces.
To spare you any real spoilers, the second season picks up from there with Beverly and Sean’s marriage in shambles and their show struggling in its infancy. Whether or not their relationship survives could very well hinge on the show’s success and their ability to forgive Matt for his hand in it all.
The driving comedic force behind Episodes comes in two parts; on one hand, the writing for the characters comes at a relatively fast clip and manages to shift gears up or down without pause depending on whether the rapier wits of Sean and Beverly or the shallower LeBlanc is in the conversation, and on the other, all of the major players in the cast are absolutely superb. Even if Tamsin Grieg might be a bit shrill and severe in her mannerisms, she’s balanced well by the easily swayed, conflict-averse Sean, and together and apart they work as interesting foils for Matt LeBlanc’s take on himself as a mixture of the goofy Joey Tribbiani character from Friends and a world-weary man who suffers from yet still delights in repeating the kinds of mistakes that have left him a divorced man with no close friends (not even those) to speak of. As the spotlight gradually expands to focus equally on Matt’s co-star Morning (Mircea Monroe), Carol, and Lapidus in the second season, the comedy becomes razor sharp with conversations that are so funny they’re painful (like an incredibly off-color joke of Matt describing sex with a deaf girl).
Episodes deserves a much wider audience than it’s found so far and anyone who’s a fan of Sorkin-esque comedy would do well do seek it out. It’s easily one of the cleverest written comedies on TV right now.
DVD Bonus Features
While I was really hoping for a blooper reel, sadly all we get are photo galleries and cast biographies.
"Episodes: The Complete First & Second Seasons" is on sale January 8, 2013 and is not rated. Comedy. Directed by Jim Field Smith , James Griffiths. Written by David Crane, Jeffrey Klarik. Starring John Pankow, Matt LeBlanc, Stephen Mangan, Tamsin Greig, Mircea Monroe, Kathleen Rose Perkins.