Episodes is a Showtime original television series about the TV industry in L.A. starring Stephen Mangan, Tamsin Greig, and Matt LeBlanc. Showtime is an American network, so it shouldn’t be too tricky. The DVD set is region one NTSC. One episode is available from Show.com for free. Season 2 is on Google Play. You can get it from Amazon Instant Video. iTunes has season 2, plus free video podcast interviews. Seasons 1-3 are available on Vudu. Hulu now has a special Showtime subscription package.
The brilliant titles of Showtime’s Episodes features an animated TV script blowing out a window in England, flapping like a bird beautifully across the world, reaching California, where it’s blown away by a shot gun and lands dead in an L.A. pool. What a perfect metaphor for the process of remaking a British TV show for America. This is the general premise of Episodes. Sean and Beverly are a married couple and award winning writing partners on a great British TV show, which gets remade by an American network that changes a comedy about a schoolmaster to a comedy about a hockey coach, retitled Pucks.
as Beverly Lincoln
It’s funny watching Episodes right after reading the history of The Sketch Show, which shared a very similar fate (as I imagine many shows do). The Sketch Show (produced by Steve Coogan’s production company in 2001) went for two years, won a BAFTA, and then was cancelled after season 2. Without knowing it was cancelled or having even seen it, America picked it up for a remake starring Kelsey Grammer based solely on the fact that it won a BAFTA. Grammer’s version was cancelled after just a few episodes. Similarly, Episodes begins at an award show where Beverly and Sean have just won and are approached by a hot shot L.A. producer who wants to remake the show for his American network. Later it becomes apparent that he’s never seen the show and just wants to do it because it won an award. Like The Sketch Show, who hired one of the original cast members, Lee Mack, to be in the remake, the show-within-a-show Pucks hires the same writers and attempts to hire the same star, Richard Griffiths, before eventually deciding on Matt LeBlanc (who plays himself in Episodes) instead.
Episodes is a comedy. It’s funny where it should be funny. But it’s also shockingly dark. You assume that this happy, successful married couple will move to L.A. and begin to be corrupted, but you hope in a funny sort of way. Episodes goes way darker than you expect. There’s an entire episode around LeBlanc’s failed relationship with his family, banging on his ex’s door drunk in the middle of the night because he just lost the custody case for his kids. Then you get Sean and Bev betraying each other in such a way, you don’t know how they’ll ever bounce back, and you want them to; the fact that you want them to proves they’ve created characters we care about. The peripheral characters are shallow cartoonish L.A. stereotypes, but you do care about the Brits, and even to some extent Matt, even if he does keep screwing everything up for them.
I’ve always enjoyed the work of Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig, and their embodiment of these characters, the Lincolns, is so complete that the sticky Caroline/Guy relationship of Green Wing never once crosses your mind..
Episodes season 2 continues on the same path as season 1. Sean and Bev are no longer a couple (though still married) but write their TV show Pucks together anyway, despite the fact that Sean discovered Bev had slept with their star, Matt LeBlanc (who is playing himself). LeBlanc’s still on his self sabotage lifestyle as he has an affair with his boss’s wife and has sex with his stalker. A lot of it is stupid, like Morning’s cheek enhancement malfunction, but it is consistently funny and surprising, often saved by the awkward or ridiculous (like trying to hide Morning’s cheek with a book or her hair). As much as I will never stop singing the praises of Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan, the supporting cast certainly holds their own. Kathleen Rose Perkins and John Pankow as Carol and Merc are particularly good. Carol and Bev have great chemistry, which comes out on their woman-to-woman chats while hiking the hills of Hollywood, the last of which ends with Carol chasing Bev up a cliff to get her to admit she knows Merc’s wife is having an affair with Matt LeBlanc. Merc Lapidus is network scum–just look at his father’s funeral service if you don’t believe me–but bizarrely not wholly unlikable. This season sees the addition of James Purefoy as Rob, Morning’s brother and Bev’s new love interest. As good as he may be, I never quite got settled into his American accent. Of everyone, Daisy Haggard is the funniest. They don’t over-use her, so whenever she says anything, I mean anything, I squeal with laughter.
Although we continue to get the satire on Hollywood business and L.A. life, like Merc’s job being in jeopardy over passing on a talking dog show (Wilfred anyone?) and what to do when your boss’s father dies, the show is less about the specifics of translating a British show into an American show, which was the biggest draw for me. It’s focused more on the relationships. Matt spends the first couple episodes trying to win back the affection of Sean and Bev after he destroys their marriage. While Bev is swooned by a free car, Sean takes a little more time to heal. Meanwhile, Carol is still holding onto the hope that Merc will leave his blind saint of a wife to be with her. Sean starts seeing Morning for real, while Bev is holding out for Sean, until the last couple episodes when she goes on a couple hesitant dates with Morning’s brother. Then, when Matt finds out the network thinks he’s too fat, he gets in a fight with Jamie Lapidus and invites over his stalker, at the risk of losing visitation time with his kids. Sean and Bev have a few on-again-off-again moments, and we’re left wondering whether they’ll get back together for good at the top of season 3. I sure hope so.
Season 3 picks up after the disastrous party that ended with the truncation of Merc Lapidus’ career and affair with Carol. But despite the TV network overlord Elliot Salad’s promise to Carol that he’d give her Merc’s job, she’s stuck as number two to newbie Castor Sotto….who is crazy-pants. Carol’s character has never been better than in season 3. Castor’s insanity is a little hard to swallow. And we miss Merc, who only makes cameos in a couple episodes (including replacing all of his blind wife’s artwork with canvases that say “Fuck you, LeBlanc”).
Meanwhile, our heroes–Britain’s finest TV writers Sean and Beverly Lincoln–are finally back together…sort of. Even after Matt LeBlanc buys them a new bed, they’re still having trouble…ya know…in the bedroom. Carol enrolls them in sex counseling, which results in Bev being forced to communicate with Sean while pretending to be her vagina. Sean is horrified to learn his wife’s vagina has the voice of Yoda. Eventually, they are able to give up their ghosts, and viewers are relieved to see them back in each other’s arms. But Sean still has starry-eyed dreams of Hollywood success, while Bev can’t wait to go home to England.
Matt LeBlanc is having crises of his own. His ex is getting remarried. His stalker is over him, now that she’s found a slicked hair boyfriend named Joe(y). He cheats on Jamie for Morning’s 19-year-old daughter. And he’s stuck with second billing on Pucks while what he really wants is to star in Andrew Lesley’s new drama. Luckily, it looks like Castor is tearing up the schedule and Pucks is the first into the bin, so LeBlanc is off to another network and Bev and Sean can finally get the hell out of L.A.
Except…An agent scoops up an old script of Sean and Bev’s and gets a bidding war started between three different networks, including Carol’s, for the new show. It would be so easy for Bev to just say to hell with them all and go to England if it weren’t for Sean’s soppy eyes, dreaming of his name in lights. But it doesn’t matter anyway because when Castor gets fired for being a nut job, Salad un-cancels Pucks to keep LeBlanc on his network. Sean, Bev, and Matt are going to be dragged kicking and screaming to the hockey rink.
Season to season, Episodes is steady. Season 3 is somewhat funnier and less gut-wrenchingly sad than season 1 and 2. Castor’s absurdity and the frequent (but thankfully short), disturbing sex scenes start to dip into low brow, but it still keeps its head above water with deliciously accurate satires of the television industry and Hollywood life.
Jaime Pond is the editor of Anglonerd. She lives and works in NYC. Follow her on Twitter.
Originally published Dec. 5, 2013 / Feb. 12, 2014 / June 23, 2014