Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Episodes: Matt LeBlanc Has Some New Friends

As a rabid Friends fan, I have watched almost everything the six main cast members did after that show ended. I even watched Joey, the rather awful spin-off starring Matt LeBlanc, which lasted for a miraculous two seasons. I worried that Matt LeBlanc had called it quits and was going to retire with his millions but last year he marked a triumphant return in the BBC-Showtime sitcom Episodes, which stars Matt LeBlanc as...Matt LeBlanc.

Of course, he's playing a slightly skewed version of himself. He's not as dumb as Joey Tribbiani, but he isn't the sharpest tool in the shed either. He's still prone to indiscriminately sleeping with any woman he sees but he's much more arrogant and content to take advantage of his huge celebrity status. His sense of humor is more sarcastic and he is much more self-aware and witty than his character ever could be on Friends. Altogether it is a hilarious portrait of a celebrity trying to find his next big role, and Matt LeBlanc is clearly enjoying poking fun at himself in every episode. No wonder he won the Golden Globe for this role last year, after never winning one for his role on Friends.

But enough about Matt. As excited as I was to see him on my TV screen again, I was just as excited for the two British leads, Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig, who were absolutely fantastic on Green Wing. On Episodes, they play Sean and Beverly Lincoln, a happily married comedy-writing duo with a critically acclaimed UK show called Lyman's Boys. The success of their show results in an offer from Hollywood to come over to Los Angeles and adapt the show for American audiences. The American executives promise the duo complete creative control and they are thrilled about this dream opportunity.

However, by the end of the first episode, their smiles have quickly turned upside down. The star of their UK show is Richard Griffiths and they are assured that he will star in the American version. Of course, Griffiths does not test well with the focus groups so he is quickly dispatched and replaced by megastar Matt LeBlanc, a decision that is met with complete horror by Sean and Beverley. Their lead role is supposed to be played by a compassionate and articulate acting veteran; instead they've got Joey Tribbiani. And from that moment on, the list of compromises they have to make keep growing. Suddenly they find themselves writing for a show that doesn't resemble their original material in any way, shape, or form, and their corruption by Hollywood is complete.

Episodes is a satirical look at the business of creating American television and even though it was created by two Americans (David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik) it has a very British sensibility. The first season was a mere seven episodes and the second season (which is currently airing on BBC Two and will air on Showtime in July) will give us a further nine episodes. The first season was a work of genius and so far the second season is continuing to fire on all cylinders. Everyone involved is fully enthused about mocking the giant American sitcom machine and their delight in playing these ridiculous characters is clearly evident. Wherever you are, find a way to see this gem of a show. It might be the best thing a former Friends star has ever done. 

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