EPISODES: Friday 11th May, BBC2, 10pm
I watched the first half of the opening series of Episodes, but eventually lost interest when I realised that I laughed more frequently during episodes of Newsnight than during this British-American sitcom. Apparently I missed out, because the BBC would have me believe that while it got off to a slow start, the series ‘came good’ towards the end and the fish-out-of-water jokes were replaced by various love-sex-drug triangle gags. That’s great, but I wasn’t that bothered about what the jokes were about, I just wanted more of them.
On paper, Episodes should work. There’s a TV show within a TV show, a Hollywood A-Lister lampooning himself and a couple of talented Brits, all staple ingredients for clever and incisive comedy, but unfortunately none of this quite transfers itself to the screen. You can dissect the various aspects of the show, but for me, the bottom line is simple. It isn’t funny enough.
You can argue that shows like Roger and Val Have Just Got In are also light in this department, but that show does manage to create characters that you buy into and want to see succeed. The problem with Episodes is that you’re not really rooting for any of them. The script isn’t as clever as countless others in this field of off-centre sitcoms (The Thick Of It, The Trip etc) and it’s certainly not involving as it needs to be. Besides, unlike Roger and Val.. this actually bills itself as a comedy.
We rejoin the cast with ‘Pucks!’ (the show within a show) about to premiere on American television and English couple Beverly (Tamsin Greig) and Sean (Stephen Mangan) on the verge of marital breakdown. Meanwhile, Matt Le Blanc is trying his hardest to make things up to Sean after banging his missus. He also accepts a furtive hand-job from the blind wife of his boss.
Apart from the fact that you don’t really care what happens to Sean and Bev, another large problem is Le Blanc, or his character.. it gets confusing. Rather than poking fun at himself, he simply seems to be playing Joey Tribbiani again. Whether that’s Matt Le Blanc or writer David Crane’s fault is unclear, but it’s certainly true that while this role is a great add-on when you have some decent leads (as with Friends) he can not lead himself. He’s an embellishment, but certainly not a driving force.
Yet that in turn wouldn’t be a problem if his character was more heavily-drawn, but unfortunately the lampooning doesn’t go far enough. I did smile when he said “Schwimmer’s going to hate this!” after the show’s high ratings were announced, but Le Blanc doesn’t have enough lines or isn’t enough of a jerk to be really entertaining. What made Extras work was the way the celebrities were looked ridiculous and the satire got both barrels. That and the jokes of course..