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Showtime’s ‘Episodes’ – TV’s Most Underappreciated Comedy
January 7, 2015  | By David Bianculli  | 1 comment

This Sunday, Showtime unveils Season 4 of Episodes, which is TV’s least appreciated sitcom. The writing is crisp, surprising and delightful, and the performances even more so…

I’ve raved about this program, a co-creation of David Crane from Friends and Jeffrey Klarik from Mad About You, since its 2011 premiere – and it’s gotten even better each season, though its profile hasn’t risen accordingly. So all I can do, I guess, as Season 4 premieres Sunday night at 10:30 ET, and as Showtime presents a marathon of all Season 3 episodes tonight (Wednesday) at 8 ET, is rave one more time. Attention must be paid.

Episodes is a behind-the-scenes show-biz comedy about the hunger by Hollywood TV executives to import and adapt hit shows from other countries, and the related hunger of TV writers from other countries to cash in on that demand. It’s gotten even more topical a target for satire in recent years, when our country’s television continues to overflow with series adapted from other cultures – everything from American Idol (British) and Homeland (Israeli) to The Killing (Danish) and Jane the Virgin (Venezuelan).

In its initial season, Episodes showed how a happily married writing couple with a modest but well-received comedy show in the U.K. were wooed by a slimy Hollywood TV executive to come to America and adapt their show for his network. He called it his favorite show of all time – and only after the couple, Beverly (Tamsin Greig) and Sean (Stephen Mangan), packed up everything and settled into lush rented Hollywood digs, did they learn that he’d never even seen it, and had bought the program on reputation and awards alone.

Very quickly in the development process, their inspirational filmed comedy about a veteran history teacher at a prep school was “tweaked” a bit – to become, eventually, a three-camera sitcom about a public high school hockey teacher, played by former Friends star Matt LeBlanc. The new Americanized show is called Pucks – and it’s not at all funny, though everything that happens behind the scenes certainly is a riot.

Over the seasons on Episodes, the relationships between the three characters have changed drastically. Sean came to Hollywood admiring Matt’s star status and unfettered freedom and good-times attitude, while Beverly resented Matt for those exact same attributes. Yet it was Beverly who ended up being truly seduced by Matt, and sleeping with him in a drunken, instantly regretted moment – which, eventually, led to Sean and Beverly separating as a couple, yet tied to each other as co-writers on Pucks.

As last season ended, Sean and Beverly were back together – and, like LeBlanc, happily distanced from Pucks, which has been canceled because of low ratings. Except that, for various Machiavellian reasons, the head of the network reverses course and renews Pucks after all, forcing Sean, Beverly and Matt to reteam on a show they all equally hate.

LeBlanc, as an exaggerated version of himself here, has been given his one great role since Joey in Friends (not forgetting, or counting, his Joey in Joey), and he does very subtle, wryly funny things with this selfishly narcissistic version of himself. Mangan’s Sean is equally appealing, and Greig’s Beverly is the true star of the show – and the one who made me laugh harder last year than any other performer on any TV sitcom. (Watch tonight’s Season 3 marathon, for the couples-therapy scene, and you’ll see why.)

I love Episodes, and wish you’d join me in watching and praising it. A comedy this good deserves to be not just enjoyed, but embraced and celebrated.

For my review of Episodes on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, listen to today’s show or, after that, visit the Fresh Air website.
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Mary Cortinas
Keep hoping for a supporting cast nomination to credit Kathleen Rose Perkins for her nuanced contribution to Episodes.
Jan 19, 2015   |  Reply
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