I’ve started enough articles on this site by stating how I’m a fan of metafiction so I’m just going to assume that this is a given for this one, and that as such you can understand my vague interest in Episodes where we get to see Matt Le Blanc play himself. You have to admit, that’s a great hook.
Episodes tells the story of two English script writers Beverley and Sean (Tamsin Grieg and Stephen Mangan) who get a shot at adapting their hit UK TV show into a US series. Of course, things don’t go according to plan beginning when the US TV execs decide to replace the old, fat central character of the show with Matt Le Blanc. Cue ‘hilarious consequences.’
Or not, really, as you probably guessed by the terribly cliched promo poster. I was worried about this show as soon as I watched the (frankly pathetic) title sequence in which an animated script flies from England to LA and is then shot with a shotgun. An animated title sequence?? What were they thinking??
Essentially, the problem with this show is that it’s trying too hard to be a cross between Curb Your Enthusiasm and Friends (dare i say trying to bring Curb to a ‘dumber’ mainstream) and it isn’t as good as either of them. The Friends reference is fairly obvious due to the presence of Le Blanc, but David Crane (who produced friends) is a producer/writer and has his fingerprints all over the script.
For example, one scene features Sean arguing with the security guard on his estate who won’t let him in because he doesn’t know him. This leads to Sean asking for the address book in his hut to find their names so they can get in – this isn’t really a logical way to solve this problem but i’ll ignore that for now. Anyway, cue long standoff ending with Sean promising he won’t tell anyone about who else lives there, only to get the book and immediately exclaim: ‘Oh my god! Renee Zellweger lives here!’ Could it be anymore Phoebe Buffay?
On this show it doesn’t really work though. I don’t know if it’s because i’m not a teenager anymore (possible); because the Friends cast were actually funny and had good comic timing (debatable); because there’s no audience laughter so I’m having trouble knowing when to laugh (probably) or simply because these kind of jokes don’t really fit the more ‘adult’/’sophisticated’ vibe that the show seems to be going for with its ideas and production values (perhaps) or because it just ISN’T as good as Curb (most likely).
The truth is it’s probably a combination of all those reasons and probably a few more; essentially though something about it just doesn’t click and seems forced/tired. It almost seems as though Crane is trying so hard to reject the traditional sitcom format that Friends did so well for this stab at satirising his own business, yet is unable to truly detach himself from the jokes that made him famous. Maybe he should make his next series a documentary about the process he went through whilst making Episodes – it might actually succeed in being the witty expose of the industry that Episodes thinks it is.
Admittedly, it is slightly enjoyable watching the yes men and women of hollywood television agree with Sean and Beverley and then take a completely different action/say something completely different to the President of the company but this comes across more as realistic and expected rather than humourous. The exact same could be said of the show’s transition from a drama about the elderly headmaster of an all boys prep school called Lyman’s Boys into a drama about a hockey coach at an american high school called Pucks. Should and could be funny, but barely raises a smile.
Another problem comes with Le Blanc. It’s always funny to see people play themselves and presumably send themselves up but he just seems to be playing a millionaire version of Joey. Whereas it’s kind of endearing to see Larry David so tight with his money even though he has no reason to be in Curb, Matt Le Blanc just comes across as a narcissist who has everything, including a car that only three other people in the world have (‘a sheikh and some drug guy’ – one of the few funny lines on the show).
This was never more apparent in the most recent episode that centred around his penis being ‘like something out of a Jules Verne novel.’ Admittedly, this was setting up kind of a funny joke at the end of the show where Le Blanc tells Beverley to keep her eyes off it and that ‘he isn’t an object’ but the delivery was again so confused that it raised little more than a stifled smile.
HIs characterisation is also remarkably inconsistent and it seems like Crane can’t decide whether he wants to portray Le Blanc as a player within the Hollywood system – in one scene he reveals he really cares about the future of the show and reveals an aspect of the plotting that our ‘heroes’ hadn’t yet considered – or an idiot – in the next he comments at a party amongst people he hasn’t met before that he watched a documentary of kids with Tourette’s and found it hilarious – and this is another key area in which Episodes falls down.
Ultimately, the idea behind Episodes is good but I think the show needs to grow into its own identity and stop displaying its influences so shamefully (admittedly difficult when Le Blanc is only known for pretty much one role, ever) and trying so hard to emulate them. Whether it can achieve this in the remaining four episodes remains to be seen.