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Showtime's 'Episodes': No Second Season Yet, But There Better Be One
February 18, 2011  | By David Bianculli
 
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Showtime hasn't yet committed to a second season of its charming and clever Episodes series, which presents its first-season finale Sunday night at 9:30 p.m. ET -- but should, and fast. When a show comes out of the box this impressively, and wraps up its first batch of installments with such compelling brilliance, viewers deserve more...

A Showtime representative told me Friday that no decision had yet been made on extending Episodes, a seven-part co-production between Showtime in the U.S. and the BBC in the U.K., for a second season.

Under the British model, there's no need for speed, and no greed for quantity. Fawlty Towers, the John Cleese '70s sitcom that is one of the funniest TV series ever made, produced six episodes, then six more four years later, and that was it.

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Episodes is co-created by David Crane, who comes from the American TV system via Friends -- which is also why Matt LeBlanc, in Episodes, plays a comically exaggerated version of himself.

Crane's co-creator, Jeffrey Klarik is another U.S. TV veteran, as one of the writer-producers of Mad About You. And that's where John Pankow (right), who plays the perfectly clueless (and cluelessly perfect) U.S. TV executive Merc Lapidus, came from -- on that earlier series, he played cousin Ira to Paul Reiser's Paul Buckman.

But the third key behind-the-scenes player on Episodes is executive producer Jimmy Mulville, who became the first British TV producer to adapt a British series for American television by generating the Drew Carey-hosted Whose Line Is It Anyway improv competition series for ABC. (Decades earlier, American producers had done it by borrowing British ideas for such adapted U.S. hits as All in the Family, Sanford & Son and Three's Company.)

Quite recently, Episodes has been sold in more than 100 foreign markets, which bodes really well for a resumption of production. Its significant global sale speaks, in part, to the durable popularity of a Friends TV star. But in this case, it also speaks to the commendably high artistry achieved in every episode of Episodes.

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Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan, who play married British TV writers Beverly and Sean Lincoln, have been amazing together -- and amazing alone. Both are veterans of Green Wing, a 2004 Scrubs-like British sitcom about eccentric workers at a British hospital. On Episodes, their on-screen marriage seems believably intimate. But so do their frustrations and fights, which give the show heart as well as laughs.

In Sunday's first-season finale, there is very real danger that Beverly and Sean, torn apart by the distractions and disappointments and temptations of Hollywood, are in danger of calling it quits -- and not just as writer-producers of an unrecognizably diluted version of their fictional British hit sitcom. Their marriage is in danger, too, with Sean tempted by sexy actress Morning Randolph (Mircea Monroe), and Beverly being both repulsed and intrigued by the star of her Americanized sitcom, Matt LeBlanc.

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Everyone in this sitcom is doing sly, excellent work. In one installment, Sean and Beverly were driving a drunken Matt home from a dive bar, and as he was leaning forward from the back seat to thank her for caring enough to come get him, he vomited -- just a bit -- on her shoulder. Her silent, bug-eyed expression was howlingly funny, and is something I'll not soon forget.

I won't reveal the ending of Sunday's season finale. I will say, though, that it provides room for future plot lines. And that, while it made me laugh out loud, it also made me feel the pain of certain characters, and to worry about what will happen to next. That's one reason I want more episodes of Episodes: I care about these people.

But most of all, I care about quality TV. And Episodes certainly is that. As both a satire of the TV industry and a comedy about marriage, it's superb -- and it's just the sort of show that adds to Showtime's already swelling reputation.

 

5 Comments

 

Mara said:

Episodes, ironically, feels like a good English sitcom to me. it's why I prefer Gervais' The Office to our American version and why I would probably prefer Lyman's Boys to Pucks!. it appreciates the subtleties of human interactions and quirks and has the patience to let them provide the laughs.

I look forward to the finale and to the second season--whenever it arrives. (and it had better!)

Comment posted on February 18, 2011 5:38 PM


Hans W said:

Just a note David, you noted Jeffrey Klarik on Mad About Friends, I believe you meant Mad About You.

[Absolutely right. He who is his own copy editor has a fool for a client... Thanks. I'll fix. -- DB]

Comment posted on February 20, 2011 6:42 PM


LMG said:

I wholeheartedly agree. This show for me was brilliant and screamingly funny. I thought all brought their A-game. I was enthralled and breathlessly eager for a second season.

Comment posted on February 21, 2011 4:29 AM


Thomas Ehlert said:

I feel humiliated for Matt LeBlanc. Every line is so obvious, the re-ocurring guard at the gate and front door alarm are sad.
The stereotypic head of the network is beyond lame and the fact the head of comedy never smiles isn't funny at all.
It's like watching a bad automobile accident, you can't look but you can't look away to see what the next predictable scene will be. Difficult for me to believe this show comes back, even more difficult to believe they ever put it on the air in the first place.
Take Matt out of the show and I'm guessing they would have never bothered making a pilot.

[What can I say? We really, REALLY disagree on this one. Even the head of comedy always scowling strikes ME as hilarious. But with comedy, especially, all things are relative -- so thanks for voicing your contrary opinion so politely. -- DB]

Comment posted on February 21, 2011 6:59 PM


Chris said:

Smart, witty, knowing but not smug, superbly played and brilliantly paced. For me it has jumped straight into the top echelon of TV comedy such as The Office (UK), 30 Rock, Fawlty Towers, and The Fast Show (UK).

There can be no higher praise.

: )

Comment posted on February 22, 2011 5:20 AM
 
 
 
 
 
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