‘I know it doesn’t reinvent the wheel’ says Carol in defence of Episodes’ commercially popular yet critically panned show-within-a-show ‘Pucks’, ‘but it has never been given a fair shake’. Whether or not the writer’s were self-knowingly defending their own work here remains to be seen, but there has never been any escaping the similarities between the reaction to ‘Pucks’ and Episodes’ own reception. For despite being halfway through the UK broadcast of its 3rd season and having a 4th in development, Episodes continues to skulk through under the radar over here; never sparking the same commercial reaction afforded to NBC’s 30 Rock, or able to exude the revered intelligence of Aaron Sorkin’s short-lived Studio 60.
The fact of the matter though, is that Episodes is equally as smart and funny as both of those shows, but it has never been given the opportunity to prove it. Lumbered with a late night midweek slot and minuscule promotion, it already feels as if Episodes has been consigned to the scrapheap. Which is a shame, for as anyone who has followed the show since it started will know, Episodes is probably funnier now then it has ever been.
Set within the gilded world of the Hollywood Hills, Episodes lifts the lid on the world of television. From the executives who have the power to develop or destroy a show, to the writers desperately trying to keep ideas unique and fresh. Central to it all is Beverly and Sean, who agreed to have their highly praised UK sitcom remade in the States under their own supervision. As it became clear to them all too quickly though, in Hollywood it’s not about good ideas, it’s about good ratings.
However, while Beverly and Sean are central to the plot, they are not what truly drive the show. Just as 30 Rock had Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy, Episodes has its own comedic ace card in the form of Matt LeBlanc as… Matt LeBlanc. Playing a satirically arrogant and self-centred version of himself, which may well have once been close to the truth, LeBlanc is what consistently enlivens the show with a robust and assured energy. Though there are similarities between this version of himself and Joey, LeBlanc is careful to never fall in to the realms of caricature. What this allows him is the opportunity to develop a character that can feel both ridiculous and relatable, offering the chance to play for the sillier belly laughs as well as the subtle one-liners.
What impresses though, is that creators David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik always avoid exploiting LeBlanc’s presence and turning it in to a gimmick. Within the world of Episodes is a host of hilarious characters that conjure comedy through both their personal and professional endeavours. Particularly noteworthy are Kathleen Rose Perkins and Daisy Haggard, who satirically embody all of the superficiality this land of show business is known for.
Seasons 1 & 2 of Episodes are out now on DVD, while Season 3 is currently showing on BBC2 on Wednesday nights at 10. Catch-up with the Season so far on the BBC iPlayer.