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A Show About a Show Getting Screwed in Hollywood
February 6, 2011  | By Eric Gould
 
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Those of us waiting for Larry David to return can meanwhile watch a sort of Curb Your Enthusiasm in reverse -- a SeinfeldBizarro World of kind, well-intentioned leading characters, with everyone else around them being bitter and inappropriate.

That clever episode had Elaine opting out of her usual group of Jerry, George and Kramer for their analog opposites: the attentive and courteous Kevin, Gene and Feldman. And now Showtime's Episodes has British TV writers Sean and Beverly Lincoln (played by Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig), a well-meaning couple adrift in a sea of smiling Hollywood backstabbers.

Episodes is a meta show about producing and writing a show within the show. It also gives us the meta Matt LeBlanc, playing Matt LeBlanc, far removed from his clueless Friends character Joey, that character that everyone expects to find. He's an amplified, wily version of himself, a veteran Hollywood actor, not unlike David's amped-up neurotic schmendrick from Curb.

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The Lincolns have come to Hollywood to remake their successful British sitcom "Lyman's Boys" for American television. Their show follows a curmudgeonly headmaster in a boys boarding school. But almost immediately upon their arrival, they find their clever comedy of manners hijacked by degrees into a stock sitcom about a hockey coach called "Pucks."

Episodes (Sunday at 9:30 p.m. ET on Showtime) counts down the dissolution of the Lincolns' artistic integrity and perhaps their marriage. Sean, agreeing to the casting of LeBlanc, becomes smitten by the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood lifestyle, while Beverly becomes increasingly unhinged as she watches her creation morph into something she loathes.

At its core, Episodes looks at America through British eyes, showing us both the fakery and crassness of L.A. culture, and the simultaneous allure of all that hype and money.

Among the clever swerves of the plot, the real writers of Episodes seem to have had one basic criterion as to whether material made it into the script: If they couldn't create an "Oh My God" moment by every other scene, they threw it out. As we watch LeBlanc get the upper hand, and the Lincolns suffer all of Hollywood's ignominies, Episodes keeps the discomfort and the wit at their highest levels. It's that well-crafted.

As a send-up of Hollywood, Episodes smartly hits all the right notes of artistic integrity corrupted from all angles. It has all the shallowness and duplicity of Entourage (although Robert Altman's 1992 The Player and Blake Edwards' 1981 S.O.B. versions of Hollywood were perhaps more outrageous and darkly accurate visions).

As for our current tradition of meta subjects within their own subjects, it playfully breaks the fourth wall. But it misses the the opportunity to take LeBlanc to the comic extremes of David in Curb or screenwriter Charlie Kaufman dropping himself directly into his screenplay of Adaptation.

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Episodes has a short run of seven half-hours this season, and we're nearing the end of filming the "Pucks" pilot. We will find out if Sean goes totally Hollywood or not, and if Beverly can stick it out. I've seen the the whole run and promise a couple of inventive, unexpected twists that make the whole first season worthwhile and leave us in the middle of some hard choices the Lincolns would have to make in the second season.

There are some great casting choices here, too. John Pankow (Mad About You) plays the smarmy network executive Merc Lapidus, who grinningly promises "not to change a thing" and then sabotages the show by degrees. Merc changes LeBlanc's character from a lacrosse coach to a hockey coach by asking "Is it too lacrossey"? There is also Daisy Haggard (Sense & Sensibility) as head of comedy for the network. She seems continuously stuck between a clueless smile and a cringe, isn't remotely funny at all, and goes utterly blank at a few golden moments -- the kind that make Episodes the delightful unmasking of Hollywood insiderism it is.

 
 
 
 
 
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