Nicholas Goodchild

Historic and Pared Down

Episodes

20 July 2012 by Nicholas in TV

Episodes is a meta sitcom about two writers of a British sitcom adapting it for the American market. The US network that picks it up decides to make some changes to make it a more commercial proposition, arguably gutting what made it successful in the first place. One of the changes is the casting of Matt LeBlanc as the lead, with LeBlanc playing a distorted version of himself.

The program mainly takes place behind the scenes during the creation of the show, and if there is one thing the media loves it is stories about itself. As a TV show it has moments of savagery, swearing and some black jokes. These are all good things that almost make up for the sentimentality and saccharine moments. I don’t know if I am alone in this (I certainly hope not) but I really hate it when sitcom writers think we care enough about the characters to substitute character moments in lieu of actual jokes. I have no problem with character being revealed, but it is nearly always done badly and with no genuine humour. It’s a bloody sitcom, I demand jokes. That’s the implicit contract between me and the makers.

But Episodes is sometimes good. LeBlanc very bravely plays an absolute bastard. Who happens to be called Matt LeBlanc and have formerly appeared on the successful sitcom friends and the spin-off series Joey. He’s also a selfish womaniser with dreadful impulse control. As a celebrity who is arguably the sole selling point in America, it’s a brave move to lampoon himself and to do so mercilessly. I would hope that the audience appreciates that it is a fiction wrapped in his own personal circumstance, but I do wonder what it will do to his image.

Stephen Mangan is also quite funny and likable. Tamsin Greig gets to play a slightly neurotic and annoying character. Most of the Americans seem to be caricatures. There aren’t enough jokes overall and the running jokes don’t become any funnier through repetition. On the plus side there doesn’t seem to be the American humour staple of mistaking a wacky situation for actual comedy.

The best episode, by far, centres around the death of the showrunner’s father. It’s deliciously bad taste and uses character moments to comedic effect rather than as substitutes for comedy. The etiquette of funerals, the reality of social climbing in the context of grief, inappropriate communication, mocking the disabled and poor taste combine to make an episode that is frequently very funny. Unfortunately every other episode of the two series around it fails to hit the same standards. 14 Episodes across two seasons that are sporadically amusing and one of high quality isn’t quite enough to recommend the show.