August 27, 2012



The first season of Showtime’s EPISODES was hobbled by its own agenda, but in its much better Season 2, the series relaxed into a very solid sitcom.  The show, written throughout by Must-See-TV veterans David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik (Klarik’s credits date back to Mad About You, and Crane was co-creator of an obscure comedy called Friends), initially set out to demonstrate that the American TV system is vulgar and stupid, through the satiric experiences of Brits Beverly and Sean Lincoln (Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan), whose pokey little UK comedy about a schoolteacher was Americanized into an awful show about a high school hockey coach called “Pucks!,” after the idiot US network executive Merc Lapidus (John Pankow) bought the show without every having watched it; among the indignities was the casting of Matt LeBlanc (playing a twisted version of himself, a la Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm) as the coach.  Season 1 disapprovingly tracked the gradual humiliation and corruption of Beverly and Sean as they pushed their terrible pilot forward and began to enjoy Hollywood’s soul-killing creature comforts, which culminated in Beverly sleeping with LeBlanc (the personification of all that was alluring and bad about Hollywood), tearing apart her marriage.

The problem with Season 1 was that everyone already knows American TV is vulgar and stupid, so the show became a ceremonial weekly shooting of clay pigeons.  In the show’s second season, the moral corruption was taken for granted, and we no longer had weary lessons in, for example, how overblown Beverly and Sean’s rented house was.  There were still moral compromises, but as in real life, they were part of the job; a botched plastic surgery for Matt’s costar Morning (Mircea Monroe) that resulted in her cheek slipping down to her chin was treated as a challenge (solved by blue-screen CG technology) rather than a sign of the end of western civilization, and Beverly and Sean’s desire to keep their dreadful show on the air through this and other crises was portrayed as understandable.  Instead, Season 2 concentrated on the show’s characters, and there was a marked improvement.

The season finale, written as always by Crane and Klarik and directed by Jim Field Smith, detonated the time bombs that had been developing all season.  “Matt LeBlanc” had been having an affair with Lapidus’s blind wife Jamie (Genevieve O’Reilly), while the declining ratings for “Pucks!”–along with the wild success of a talking-dog sitcom that Lapidus had passed on in favor of the hockey show–led to the network’s decision to fire Lapidus.  Worse, network president Elliott Salad (Michael Brandon) was going to pull the trigger at the banquet where Lapidus was being honored as Man of the Year.  And worse yet, Salad offered Lapidus’s job to Carol (Kathleen Rose Perkins), the programming executive who’s been sleeping with (and harboring genuine feelings for) Lapidus.  Everything had to come out, and it did, leading to a fun slapstick battle at the banquet, and (apparently) Beverly and Sean’s reconciliation.

There’s still plenty of satire (the season finale took a nice shot at HBO for promoting its weighty dramas while riding on True Blood‘s mindless success), but the focus on the show’s characters was good for the entire cast.  Carol became Beverly’s somewhat unlikely BFF, and Perkins and Greig’s scenes together were some of the highlights of the season.  LeBlanc, while still a deft cartoon of “Matt LeBlanc,” was allowed to have some recognizable emotions and vulnerability through his romance with Jamie Lapidus.  Greig and Mangan, freed of the show’s burden of moral judgment, and given meaty plotlines about mutual jealousy as Sean hooked up with Morning and Beverly started dating Morning’s brother, blossomed into likable leads.  OK, Merc Lapidus remained a self-obsessed moron who likes to have conversations from the toilet, but John Pankow found a little pathos in his discovery that he was out of a job.

Episodes isn’t a ratings hit–in fact, its numbers have been downright microscopic–but unlike “Pucks!” it’s lucky enough to air on a network that cares less about raw viewership than prestige and visibility.  With Weeds on the way to its exit and The Big C being ushered out with a 4-week final “season,” Episodes is one of Showtime’s blue-chip comedies, and not at all a certainty to be canceled.  It would be a shame if the series didn’t survive, now that it’s finally reached its stride.

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."