July 2, 2012



EPISODES:  Sunday 10:30PM on Showtime


WHERE WE WERE:  Sean and Beverly Lincoln (Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig) are a married pair of British television writers who’ve had a modest success with a low-key comedy about a middle-aged teacher at a boys’ private school.  US TV executive Merc Lapidus (John Pankow) tells them that he loves loves LOVES the show, and wants to bring it to the US (they subsequently learn that in fact he’d never even seen it).  With an equal mix of idealism and greed, Sean and Beverly agree to an American remake.  Through the tenderly brutal attentions of Lapidus and his cohort, initially icy (she warms up after some pot) and ambitious development exec Carol Rance (Kathleen Rose Perkins)–who’s having an affair with Lapidus even she knows is pathetic–the original British show is transformed out of all recognition, until it’s a dumb sitcom about a high school hockey coach, with Matt LeBlanc (played by Matt LeBlanc) in the lead.   Both Sean and Beverly are outraged, but Sean is also tempted by the LeBlanc lifestyle, not to mention va-va-voomish starlet Morning Randolph (Mircea Monroe), who’s been cast as the school librarian.  Beverly looks on with disdain verging on disgust–right up until the time she falls in bed with Matt LeBlanc.  Sean finds out, and wants nothing to do with his wife, his star or his show.  It’s at that point that the network announces that the pilot has tested through the roof, and “Pucks” has been picked up to series.

WHERE WE ARE:  4 months have passed, and “Pucks,” now in series production, is about to have its first airing.  Sean and Beverly are separated, because although Beverly, aghast at her own lapse, repeatedly begs for his forgiveness, Sean is unyielding.  Meanwhile, Lapidus’  charity-minded blind wife Jamie (Genevieve O’Reilly), previously presented as a virtual saint, gives LeBlanc a handjob in her husband’s crowded home screening room as the show’s premiere airs.  “Pucks” turns out to be a hit–or at least its debut is.  And Sean may be moving beyond merely being tempted by Morning.

EPISODES got a moderate amount of acclaim in its first season (mostly for Matt LeBlanc playing the show’s twisted version of hmself), if not much of an audience.  Mostly it’s an exercise in condescending straw man comedy:  American TV executives are boorish imbeciles, stars are narcissistic jerks, audiences are morons, and only the British have any intelligence or taste.  (The show, incidentally, is written and created by the very American David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik, two extremely experienced US TV writers.  Klarik’s shows include Mad About You, and Crane co-created a little series called Friends.)  In the Season 2 premiere, written by Crane and Klarik and directed by Jim Field Smith, no nuance has been added.  The satire, isn’t particularly sharp or surprising (TV execs are idiots?  Really?  Hold the iPhone!), and it’s all toothless, since in the show’s jaded worldview, quality isn’t even a possibility or something worth fighting for on US television.

Episodes does better with some of the characters:  LeBlanc seems to get a big kick out of playing himself as a shrewd womanizer, and Morning is actually allowed to have some wit instead of being a mere bimbo.  Sean and Beverly get all the best lines, because they’re British and therefore witty, and Mangan and Greig play them well.  But there’s nothing particularly uproarious or satisfying about the show–in its own way, it’s as much a piece of hackery as Last Man Standing, it’s just devoted to a different hackneyed formula.

There’s nothing at all wrong with ridiculing television:  it’s a subgenre of the form that goes back at least to The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and more recently 30 Rock has been doing it with a surreally cartoonish edge.  In fact, the form is so familiar that to work, it requires some kind of new spin or imagination.  Episodes, for all its contempt toward the medium, is itself no more than a competent sitcom.

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."