leblanc

TV on DVD: “Episodes: The Complete First and Second Season”

episodesI wonder how much of Matt LeBlanc was a part of “Joey,” his famous role on Friends, because there’s an awful lot of Joey in “Matt LeBlanc,” the role the actor Matt LeBlanc plays in Episodes. This hilarious comedy series is produced by Friends creator, David Crane, who wrote the LeBlanc part specifically for his Friends friend, LeBlanc. A co-production between cabler Showtime and the BBC, Episodes is a witty blend of British and American sensibilities and a scathing behind the scenes look at network television.

The series begins when British writers, Sean and Beverly Lincoln (Stephen Mangan and Tasmin Grieg), have just won an award for their popular sitcom, “Lymon’s Boys,” which is set in a traditional British boarding school with a distinguished old headmaster. Sean and Bev are approached by a crass American television exec (played to perfection by Mad About You’s Jon Pankow) who woos the married couple to the States with the promise of making an Americanized version of “Lymon’s Boys” an enormous network TV hit.

The loving couple agrees to come to the US and adapt their show. Almost immediately, their ideas are compromised, as the original concepts are hacked away until “Lymon’s Boys” has become “Pucks,” a sitcom about a high school hockey coach and a star vehicle for, you guessed it, Matt LeBlanc.  Sean is star struck by LeBlanc and the two become fast friends. In the series, Sean is apparently LeBlanc’s only friend, with the rest of the actor’s free time being filled by a steady stream of women. Bev, on the other hand, despises LeBlanc for his rude, playboy persona. She chooses to tolerate him long enough for the “Pucks” pilot episode to be completed. After that, she plans to return home, feeling that there’s no way in hell “Pucks” would ever get a green light for series.

Since these are just the first two seasons and a third is in production, you can surmise what actually happens.

The writing on Episodes is sharp and insightful, the kind of inside look at entertainment that can only be written by those who’ve experienced it in all of its highs and lows. Crane co-created the show with Jeffrey Klarik, another TV veteran. The two men and their staff of writers appear to be drawing from their own experiences in coming up with the showbiz plots. The entire cast of the series is particularly strong. Pankow shows no mercy as the executive who only cares about ratings and getting laid. He’s funny, but a real asshole. How much of an asshole? This is a guy who takes every opportunity to make fun of his blind wife behind her back, in in front of her, and always with people present. The execs behavior is despicable, yet Pankow makes it very funny.

Mangan has an engaging wide-eyed enthusiasm, and when he gets his spirits dashed, the actor plays pathos rather well. Grieg has a great deal of sexiness and spunk. Her character is independent and strong willed, and the actress infuses her with the right amount of humanity to make us care for her, even when she fucks up. It would be easy to single out LeBlanc’s star turn, playing a slimeball version of himself (example- he once slept with a Make-A-Wish kid that he met. In his defense, she was 18 when they did it). LeBlanc (the actor) does a wonderful job making LeBlanc (the character) likable despite his many flaws. Props to the actor for being game at poking fun at himself. Still, it’s Mangan and Grieg who ground the show emotionally. As their marriage must navigate the twisting roads of Hollywood life, you never stop believing that they love each other. Together with LeBlanc (the actor), the trio make for a great way to spend a half hour of your time.

Season one of Episodes is seven half hours and follows the making of the “Pucks” pilot episode. Season two follows the production of the “Pucks’” rocky first season. If you’ve ever wondered how so much crap gets on television, Episodes provides an inside view to the process. While it’s not as biting as say, The Larry Sanders Show, Episodes is still one of the best behind the scenes looks at the TV industry. And if you’re a fan of Friends, you’ll get a healthy dose of Joey in the form of Matt LeBlanc playing Matt LeBlanc. Did you follow that? Just watch the show.