March 17, 2014

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “Episodes”


Showtime’s EPISODES has improved markedly from its first season, which mostly invited viewers to join British television writers Sean and Beverly Lincoln (Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig) as they turned their noses up at the woeful idiocy of American TV comedy and its practitioners.  (It was a subject series creators David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik clearly had on their chests for quite a while, Crane being a co-creator of Friends and Klarik a longtime network sitcom writer/producer.)  It was mainly notable for the meta casting of Matt LeBlanc as a lecherous, narcissistic but sly version of “himself”.

By season 2, the Lincolns were implicated in the process they’d ridiculed in Season 1, and busily producing “Pucks,” the bastardized US version of their acclaimed British comedy about a small boys’ school, under the extremely moronic counsel of network president Merc Lapidus (John Pankow) and his number two Carol Rance (Kathleen Rose Perkins).  Both Sean and Beverly gave into the moral rot of Hollywood and had affairs (adultery apparently doesn’t exist in England).  In an unlikely but pleasing development, Beverly and Carol even became close, if wary, friends, equally fond of hiking and getting stoned.

This year’s Season 3 was Episodes‘ best so far, maintaining its satiric edge while allowing its characters more room to breathe, especially Sean and Beverly, who had to gradually reconcile after last season’s infidelities.  As good an actor as John Pankow is, one of the biggest  improvements was largely jettisoning Merc as he got fired from the network.  Merc’s brand of stupidity was rather cliched (one of the running gags was that he praised shows and scripts he’d never seen), and his character took up all the oxygen in whatever room he was in.  His firing also allowed for one of this season’s best scenes, a brutally realistic–however funny–look at what it’s like when an ex-executive goes back to his old network to pitch projects as a producer.

Since Carol had been having a hopeless affair with Merc, his absence also freed up her character–admittedly, into another masochistic relationship with his replacement, the extremely bipolar Castor Sotto (Chris Diamantopolous).  He, like all network presidents, reached his sell-by date, in this case with a virtuoso season finale rant that seemed to be Crane and Klarik’s version of a Paddy Chayevsky-ian Network monologue (the two write all the scripts themselves, and this season was directed by Iain B. MacDonald), which involved Sotto calling on his fellow executives to become “zombies,” with nonstop programming that would seamlessly mesh comedy with drama with news, as a reality show character would be held hostage by a cop show villain, only to be shot by real cops, the shooting to be reported by the network news.  As to all of that, one can only say that people thought the TV shows depicted in Network were insane too, and now they don’t look so funny.

The other fun plotlines this season arose from the seemingly imminent network cancellation of “Pucks,” as LeBlanc had to deal with the intricate politics of a star past his prime negotiating the important distinction between a network “read” and a “meeting” for a new project, and Sean and Beverly, as soon as they announced their intentions to pack up and go back to the UK, became the subject of a 3-network bidding war for a script they (or at least Beverly) had no interest in selling.  The finale had a marvelous pair of ensemble scenes where agents, executives and producers (including Les Moonves, whose empire includes Showtime, in a funny cameo) combined to assail the Lincolns for their script–and the twist conclusion, where the network decided to keep “Pucks” alive just to screw NBC, which wanted LeBlanc for a hot pilot, was based on more than one real-life instance of inter-network sabotage.

The renewal of “Pucks” coincides with that of Episodes, and while the Showtime show will probably need to move on or expand its storyline at some point–“Pucks” can only believably stay on the air so long–it’ll be a pleasure to see it back.  LeBlanc is at least as expert playing “himself” as he’s been in his more celebrated roles, and Mangan, Greig and Perkins have become strong leads as well.  (One must also always mention Daisy Haggard as Myra, the network’s head of Comedy, whose repertoire of whines and noises is an art form in itself.)  The show is the lowest-rated on Showtime’s Sunday schedule, but aside from being relatively low-budget, it gets award attention for LeBlanc and a generally high-toned level of buzz for the network, more than justifying its existence in the real-life comedy of American TV.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."