[01/07/11 - 11:29 PM]
The Futon's First Look: "Episodes" (Showtime)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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EPISODES (Showtime)
(Sundays at 9:30/8:30c beginning January 9)

The network's description: "New comedy series EPISODES stars Matt LeBlanc ("Friends") and is executive produced and created by David Crane ("Friends", "The Class") and Jeffrey Klarik ("The Class", "Mad About You"). The series focuses on a British couple whose hit, erudite UK show is turned into an Americanized sitcom starring LeBlanc (as himself). Jimmy Mulville executive produces through his successful Hat Trick production company ("Whose Line Is It Anyway?," "Worst Week")."

What did they leave out? Claire Forlani was originally cast as the female lead, Beverly, while Thomas Haden Church likewise was up for the character of Merc Lapidus.

The plot in a nutshell: Sean (Stephen Mangan) and Beverly Lincoln (Tamsin Greig) are once again the talk of the British television industry, taking home another BAFTA award for their comedy series "Lyman's Boys." Not surprisingly then America has come calling in the form of network executive Merc Lapidus (John Pankow), who wants to bring their show - about Julian Bullard (played by Richard Griffiths), the brash headmaster of an all-boys school, and his unrequited love of the school's lesbian librarian - to the States. They're both initially skeptical - not to mention content with their big fish in a small pond status - but Sean convinces them it could be an even grander adventure. And so as they say, Hollywood they come.

There they're shuttled through the pilot process by Carol Rance (Kathleen Rose Perkins), Merc's number two at the network, where it quickly becomes clear their "Lyman's Boys" isn't exactly what Merc wants (Carol: "There is a chance Merc may not have actually seen your show." Sean: "What?" Carol: "I'm not saying that he hasn't seen it." Beverly: "Has he seen it?" Carol: "No."). And after Griffiths winds up tanking his audition, the network wants to recast with of all people: Matt LeBlanc, yes, that Matt LeBlanc. From there the wheels start to come off the train as LeBlanc suggests they re-write the show to be about a hockey coach and make the librarian - played by the seemingly immortal Morning Randolph (Mircea Monroe) - straight. Even worse, the stress starts to take its toll on Sean and Beverly's marriage as she can't stand Matt, not to mention isn't thrilled by Morning's flirtatious attitude towards Sean. Ultimately they're going to have to get it together, as they're always the chance the show might go to series.

What works: LeBlanc seems more than game to send up his image as a one-note, bordering on washed up actor. And if anything, he's the reason to give the show a shot but...

What doesn't: ...wow, is this a surprisingly obvious, toothless send-up of Hollywood culture. Virtually every plot development can be seen from miles away and the ongoing naivete of Sean and Beverly borders on ludicrous, especially considering their proposed BAFTA-winning pedigree. Wait, American networks take sharp, nuanced British shows and dumb them down for their audience? Quick, someone call Woodward and Bernstein because this is going to blow that Watergate story out of the water! Next thing you're going to tell me is that they give dumb notes and lie about how they feel about their shows to the creators' faces. Wait, hold the phone, they do?

More problematic is that once spotted, it seems to take forever for each of the aforementioned developments to bear fruit: LeBlanc himself, save for a brief appearance in a flash-forward that kicks off the show, doesn't even turn up in the actual narrative until the second episode. So basically you spend the bulk of the first half hour waiting for the well-advertised hook of the show to even dig in. From there it's a bouillabaisse of things like the security guard never remembers Sean and Beverly, but he does everyone else!; Merc is such an asshole that he even mocks his blind wife!; Matt has a giant penis, and Beverly can't concentrate when she finds out!; etc., etc.

It's not even entirely clear who we're supposed to root for and/or care about: Sean and Beverly? They thumb their noses at how the American system works, but seem more than willing to push through. Matt? He confides this is his last real shot at a comeback and yet his idiocy causes half the aforementioned problems. It doesn't help that any of the good will they engender is quickly dashed by a really-they-are-going-to-do-this "twist" in the show's final installments, a moment that's never earned and feels so very "only on TV." At the end of the day, I'd love to see an earnestly biting TV series about an enthusiastic writer's soul crushing adventures in Hollywood. Until that happens, you can always...

The bottom line: ...go rent Jake Kasdan's "The TV Set."

  [january 2011]  


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