As Irving Berlin’s song once so raucously denoted, there’s no business like show business. To us mere mortals, Hollywoodland is place where hopes and dreams can be made or slayed. A world built on dishonesty and uncertainty, where people judge each other by image and almost nothing makes logical sense.
It is in to this gilded but debauched existence that Episodes once again takes us. Though it’s never shared the popularity of 30 Rock or the critical reverence of Studio 60, it’s a show that has deservedly won the confidence of the Showtime network, who green lit a forth series before the third had even aired. Rightly so, for despite it’s baffling lack of popularity, Episodes has consistently gained momentum as it has developed. Transforming itself in to a sharply satirical observation on the very industry it’s founded within.
Particularly significant to the show’s lasting novelty is its gradual shift in focus. Starting out as an objectively linier comedy about broken marriages and exaggerated egos that was tossed together with repetitive jokes about Hollywood’s lack of creative diversity, Episodes has slowly blossomed into an astutely observed and smartly realised satirical swipe on TV’s corporate sector. The result of this narrative change has propelled the quality of the show forward, infusing the writer’s with a new sense of purpose that has paved the way for the show’s most intelligent and immersive season yet.
Crucial to its success is the show’s deliciously varied group of characters. With more freedom to develop her onscreen persona, the shining beacon of the third season is without doubt Kathleen Rose Perkins’ Carol, who successfully sheds her image as a stereotyped studio honcho in favour of someone with more definition; although she remains as delightfully shallow as ever.
It’s Sean and Beverly that continue to be our path in to this superficial world though. As ever, the chemistry between Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Grieg imbues the show with its essential relatable core. They’ve been so unscrupulously mistreated by those who dangled the promise of a vibrant new life in front of them that you can’t help but root for them, which has now allowed the writers to gradually develop a softly emotional edge to their gradually disintegrating marriage. Especially touching is a sudden moment of frank honesty while visiting an alleged marriage counsellor in episode 5.
Meanwhile, the best comedy continues to be reserved for the undisputed star of the show. Matt LeBlanc’s satirically arrogant and self-centred version of his persona may not be wholly likeable, but it is eminently enjoyable. Once again, top marks must go to the show’s writers, who continue to avoid the trappings of turning LeBlanc in to a reliable gimmick to raise the joke count and the actor maintains a carefully relatable manner that stops his “character” from falling in to the realms of caricature.
It can’t be denied that the show does continue to lack the sort of fast-flowing one-liners that have defined the likes of 30 Rock. However, instead this has given the writer’s an opportunity to develop satirically sharp gags that make a joyful mockery of the ridiculousness of the whole industry. As one character so eloquently puts it in the final episode, “we all have to eat shit now & then. You just have to eat it until the show’s a big hit and then they have to eat yours… it’s called show business”… there really is no business like it!
Season 3 of Episodes is out on DVD now.