EPISODES “Episode 1 ” Advance Review

EPISODES "Episode 1"
EPISODES “Episode 1” Season 1 Episode 1 (Series Premiere) — Showtime goes meta with its latest half-hour comedy series, EPISODES, about the misadventures of a British couple trying to bring their hit show to the United States, only to be thwarted by a network president and, eventually, Matt LeBlanc. Written by David Crane (Friends) and Jeffrey Klarik (Mad About You), the show is a darkly comic fish out of water dramedy meets bitter show business satire. I was lucky enough to preview the episode and while the pilot is a little uneven, there’s a lot to like here.

Sean and Beverly Lincoln are the creators and writers behind ‘Lyman’s Boys,’ a BAFTA award winning hit British comedy who seem to have it all: solid careers, a happy and passionate marriage, even a shared dry sense of humor. They are played to perfection by Stephen Mangan and, especially, Tamsin Greig, who have excellent chemistry and comedic timing. Life is good until network president Merc Lapidus (John Pankow, Mad about You) saunters up to them at the BAFTA Awards and offers to change their lives by putting ‘Lyman’s Boys’ on American television. If ever there were a time to take the blue pill, this would have been it, and Beverly knows that–at least on some level–but Sean has stars in his eyes and we’re off to Hollywood for some cringetastic–and often funny–rude awakenings.

Cast-wise, while Matt LeBlanc–playing a version of himself–will feature heavily in the series, he only makes a small appearance in the pilot. Don’t expect Joey Tribbiani because he’s not here, but that’s actually a good thing. Pankow infuses Merc with oily charm and bravado, occasionally having a little too much fun chewing the scenery. Kathleen Rose Perkins is a delight as Merc’s assistant who is stuck with (not) explaining the facts of show business life to Sean and Beverly, and Richard Griffiths (best known here for playing Uncle Vernon in the ‘Harry Potter’ movies) is wonderful in his cameo as Julian Bullard, the original star of ‘Lyman’s Boys.’ We only meet other supporting characters briefly here and they leave little impression.

To give you a taste of the dialogue, here are some of my favorite lines:

“Have you not seen our heads? It’s all we can do to not kick them when we’re walking.” Beverly has wonderfully expressive dialogue and a wit as dry as the Sahara Desert. Tamsin Greig is fabulous, plain and simple.

“My grandmother lives in New Jersey and hates black people.” You never know what’s going to come out of Merc’s mouth. He doesn’t even know.

“Our show’s not this good.” Again, it’s all in the delivery.

“Merc is stronger than stone.” This scene where Sean and Beverly get a crash course in Hollywood is probably my favorite of the pilot. While the lines themselves are funny, Carol, Sean and Beverly’s facial expressions are priceless.

“My negative slaps your positive around.” It doesn’t slap it around enough.

With all the British shows being currently adapted for American television, Episodes (could they have chosen a worse title?) could not be more timely and it has plenty of funny moments. The tone is occasionally uneven and I wish the Hollywood characters were written less broadly (Matt LeBlanc and Carol get the best treatment), but the show is a mostly enjoyable and fun ride, with Tamsin Greig and Matt LeBlanc as the best parts. Also, the pilot is not the strongest episode of the series, so even if you only kind of enjoy it, stick around for future episodes because the series gets stronger as it goes on.

After you’ve watched the Episodes pilot tonight on Showtime at 9:30pm eastern/8:30pm central, please come back and post what you thought. Also, how much do you think the title will hurt it?

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