Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 1, 2013)
After Friends completed its successful 10-year run, Matt LeBlanc appeared to enjoy the softest landing spot of the six lead actors. While the others went on to unrelated projects, LeBlanc signed up for Joey, a spin-off in which he continued to play his Friends character.
This didn’t go well. The series got bad reviews and low ratings, so it limped through two seasons before cancellation.
LeBlanc returned to TV in 2011 with a new series in which he’d play “Matt LeBlanc”, a less likable version of himself. Episodes focuses on Sean and Beverly Lincoln, TV royalty in Britain who attempt to adapt their show Lyman’s Boys for US audiences. This doesn’t go as planned.
I’ll look at all 16 episodes of Episodes that span this two-DVD/two-season set. The plot synopses come from the Showtime website.
Episode 1: “Sean (Stephen Mangan) and Beverly (Tamsin Greig) are shocked when they arrive in California to discover that their erudite, stage veteran star has been replaced by the network with Matt LeBlanc (Matt LeBlanc).”
“E1” needs a while to get going, so the pre-Hollywood scenes can drag a little. They’re important for the narrative, though, and the show gets more entertaining once the Lincolns arrive in LA. While the show doesn’t do anything particularly original, it has fun with showbiz sliminess and launches the series in an entertaining manner.
Episode 2: “Sean and Beverly attend a swanky dinner party at Merc's (John Pankow) house where Sean falls prey to Matt's flattery and attention, while Beverly resists the star's charms and discovers that having Matt LeBlanc as an enemy is a bad idea.”
Perhaps this will change eventually, but right now, “Matt LeBlanc” feels like a somewhat smarter, somewhat nastier version of Joey. That’s not a bad thing, though, as he’s still pretty funny. “E2” manages to integrate LeBlanc well and create amusing moments as the overall narrative develops.
Episode 3: “Sean and Matt spend a day bonding together with a trip to Las Vegas, leaving Beverly feeling left out of her husband's new ‘bromance’ and leading to a revealing confrontation between her and the star.”
With the Sean/Beverly relationship at the center of the show, it can be up and down. Beverly threatens to become such an off-putting character that she may develop into a consistent downer. At least that makes Sean more likable, though, and the way both interact with Matt works.
Episode 4: “Forced to rescue a drunken Matt from a seedy dive bar so that he won't drive drunk, Sean and Beverly take him to his ex-wife's house, where he visits his children, confronts the mess he's made of his life, and finds Beverly's attitude toward him softening.”
Another episode and more of Irritating Beverly. I get that the show wants tension among the Sean/Beverly/Matt triangle, but man, she’s just such a nag! That aspect of the show drags it down and makes it less enjoyable than its predecessors, especially because it doesn’t do a ton to advance the general narrative. At least the finale starts to soften things somewhat.
Episode 5: “Matt invites both Sean and Morning (Mircea Monroe), an actress with whom Sean has long been infatuated, to a charity event where Sean discovers the attraction is mutual; Beverly and Carol (Kathleen Rose Perkins) share a joint and commiserate about the men in their lives.”
By this point, the series finds itself in a tough spot. On one hand, the parts that deal with Pucks/showbiz offer the most amusement, but on the other, those elements would get old if they comprised everything about Episodes.
So that means the personal interactions become the main focal point, for better or for worse. These aren’t a consistent drag, but they do give us more of a soap opera feel than I’d like. Granted, they shoot for comedy, but it’s just hard for me to care about the Sean/Beverly relationship and its side issues. Maybe this’ll become more enjoyable as we move.
Episode 6: “Convinced that her husband's relationship with Morning is less than platonic, Beverly packs her bags and leaves the house, but gets into a car crash that has unexpected consequences for her marriage.”
We actually saw a little of E6 back in E1, as it displayed the fight between Sean and Beverly. It seemed superfluous then – probably because it was – but at least it’s nice that we’ve finally caught up with that sequence.
Too bad not much else changes. Sean’s still a schmuck, Beverly’s still a bitch, and so on. E6 moves along the situations but remains too much of a semi-comedic soap opera.
Episode 7: “Deeply regretting an impulsive tryst, Beverly returns home to Sean as they wrap production of their series and prepare to return to London, but a final farewell between Sean and Matt takes a series of complicated and unexpected turns.”
Does E7 finish Season One with a bang? Not really. The confrontations add some slapstick, but the show still focuses too much on the lame melodrama among the series’ principals.
I can’t say I minded my time with Season One, but I didn’t have a great time with it, either. It started well but eventually became too bogged down in the lives of unenjoyable characters. S1 doesn’t balance comedy and drama well enough to create an especially strong series. Oh well – perhaps Season Two will be stronger.
Episode 201: “While Sean and Beverly prepare for the Pucks series premiere, their marital woes create an awkward work environment. Meanwhile, Matt deals with the consequences of his sexual escapades and Merc continues his affair with Carol.”
Am I the only one who thinks Episodes would fare much better if it focused on characters other than Sean and Beverly? It does little to exploit the natural “fish out of water” elements, and they remain a drag. Virtually every other character on the show seems more interesting than the leads.
Accepting what we get and not what I wish we’d see, “E201” launches Season Two on a decent note. At least it offers some space from the end of S1, so we know that various situations have had a little time to develop. And I will say that it’s nice to see Sean find someone more interesting than the awful Beverly, even though I’d bet he’ll go back to her at some point.
Episode 202: “Sean and Beverly, stunned about the latest ratings, are shocked even further when Matt (Matt LeBlanc) gives them each an expensive gift. Carol handles a troublesome lawsuit for Merc and Jamie asks Matt for a favor.”
Why does every shot of the car that Matt gives to Sean move slowly like it’s part of an ad? Why does Matt detail all the vehicle’s attributes? Oh, because it’s some of the most shameless product placement I’ve ever seen! Yay!
If the show played the cheesiness of this with a sense of irony, then I’d not mind, but the lack of commentary demonstrates much of what’s wrong with Episodes: it wants to mock the industry but it embraces clichés without any self-reference. Well, at least E202 gives Myra (Daisy Haggard) more screen time than ever; she’s the funniest character on the show.
Episode 203: “Following the death of Merc’s father, Sean, Beverly and Matt argue about the best way to pay their respects. During the funeral, Carol’s jealousy of Jamie (Genevieve O’Reilly) intensifies. Morning accidentally reveals a secret to Beverly and Matt divulges the identity of his first celebrity sexual encounter.”
Though it concentrates more on the showbiz side of things than usual, E203 still doesn’t do much for me. That’s because it remains so toothless; it digs into Hollywood sleaziness but does so in a limp manner. Add to that more Sean/Beverly melodrama and show does nothing to endear the series to me.
Episode 204: “Sean and Beverly are forced to tweak their latest Pucks script after Carol presents some troubling research. Matt feels that he was lied to and debate quitting the show. Sean becomes Facebook friends with Matt’s stalker and Morning gives Sean a gift to commemorate a special memory.”
E204 works better than most because it usually concentrates on show business; when it deals with those elements, it entertains. We still get too much of the drab Sean/Beverly relationship, unfortunately. Maybe I’ll eventually care about those two, but I doubt it. Nonetheless, the higher than usual emphasis on the Hollywood components makes E204 better than average.
Episode 205: “Carol, desperate for more commitment from Merc, pressures him to plan an anniversary vacation - but things get crazy when Jamie plans a separate getaway for her and Matt. Sean and Beverly help Morning deal with a ‘cheeky’ medical emergency.”
After a solid Hollywood-based episode, we go back to more of the interpersonal nonsense here. Granted, because the show concentrates more on the secondary roles and less on Beverly/Sean, it’s not bad, but I still find it hard to care about these people. Still, some amusement results, so it’s good for the series.
Episode 206: “Merc asks Matt for two big favors: persuade one of his Friends costars to make a guest appearance on Pucks, a task that proves surprisingly difficult, and make a speech at his ‘Man of the Year’ dinner, the writing of which falls to Sean and Beverly, who bond over booze and the difficult task of lauding a man they despise.”
Episodes justifies its existence with copious shots of stunning Sophie Rundle – Matt’s stalker – in next to nothing. If we got more of her, this’d be a great series. Unfortunately, Sophie disappears quickly and we’re left with the standard soap opera between Beverly and Sean. The subplot in which Matt tries to recruit a Friend adds some juice, at least, even if it does follow fairly predictable lines.
Episode 207: “The network puts Sean and Beverly in charge of addressing a delicate issue with Matt: his expanding waistline, which they are convinced is responsible for the show's declining ratings; Beverly is coaxed to go on a date with Morning's brother but claims she is the world's worst date, an assertion that proves unfortunately accurate.”
The “Fat Matt” plot had some potential, but it doesn’t really go much of anywhere. Otherwise, we’re stuck with more melodrama, as Beverly goes out on a date with James Purefoy and His Unconvincing American Accent. I’m also not sure I can forgive a show in which Sophie Rundle appears in bed but we don’t see her naked.
Episode 208: “Merc fights for his career when it's revealed that he developed then canceled a show that is now a monster hit on another network; Sean and Beverly are appalled when Matt has a one-night stand with his stalker, Labia; Beverly's second date with Morning's handsome brother Rob (James Purefoy) leaves Sean seething with jealousy.”
While Purefoy is a dud, guest star Michael Brandon – as TV exec Elliot Salad – offers a jolt of energy. Unfortunately, he’s a minor element, and we get much too much of the tedious Rob/Beverly courtship; seriously, did no one tell Purefoy how awful his accent was?
Episode 209: “On the night of his ‘Man of the Year’ award, Merc discovers Jamie's affair with Matt and vows to leave her for Carol once and for all; Sean is stricken when Beverly brings Rob as her date to the ceremony.”
S2 finally ends here. I’d like to say the year finishes in a manner that makes me look forward to a third season, but nothing in this program changes my perspective on the series. While Episodes manages occasional moments of mirth, it’s too dependent on its unlikable, banal lead characters and soap opera elements. Those come to a head here but not in a way that proves especially satisfying.