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Episodes Season 2 Review: Showtime's Meta Comedy Returns
Given how often we're seeing or hearing about adaptations of British series on U.S. TV, it's certainly a fitting and familiar subject to be explored in a TV show, and Showtime's meta comedy Episodes does just that, finding the humor in the culture clash, as much between British and America as between Hollywood and the rest of the universe.
What worked well for Season 1 of Episodes was how the series was as much a humorous take on how the TV industry works behind the scenes as it was a story about a married couple whose lives are turned upside-down when they relocate to Hollywood. Armed with their own dry and witty style of humor, Sean (Stephen Mangan) and Beverly Lincoln's (Tamsin Greig) personalities clash humorously with the expectations of a U.S. network executive as much as they do with the goofier Matt LeBlanc, who's playing a messier, more egocentric version of the actor on which he's based. While the real LeBlanc earned himself a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Matt LeBlanc in Season 1, the Episodes version of LeBlanc is not doing nearly as well, professionally. Sean and Beverly's Pucks! could be his big post-Joey comeback, assuming things go well. Meanwhile, when the first season left off, Sean and Beverly's marriage was in a state of collapse, but their pilot was picked up, so they weren't exactly in the position to go their separate ways.
Season 2 resumes just as Pucks! is about to premiere on network television. The reviews are in, and while the reaction from the critics isn't exactly favorable (to say the least), everyone is trying to be optimistic that the show will be a ratings hit. On the TV side of the story, Season 2 focuses on Pucks!' ratings and its time slot competition, which comes mainly in the form of a comedy about a talking dog. But more of the focus for Season 2 lays in other matters.
Pucks! may be the catalyst to Sean and Beverly's Hollywood adventure/marital-disaster, but for the purposes of Episodes, it's really just a reason to bring all of these characters together. Unfortunately, some of them aren't so keen on that at this point. Off the bat, Sean obviously wants little to do with Matt LeBlanc after the man bedded his wife, but they do have to work together, and Matt likes Sean. The same issue applies to Beverly and Sean, as Season 2 picks up with them separated, but working together. Neither seems to know where they stand with the other or whether or not there's any chance of a reconciliation. There's a new kind of awkward distance between them, that offers a certain measure of drama on their end of the series.
Romantic entanglements play an even bigger role in Season 2 over all. In addition to the introduction of a very strange relationship Matt has with his stalker, we also see him getting involved with another character on the series, which presents its own set of problems. On that note, Matt's life doesn't seem to be in the best place this season, despite his starring role in a TV show, and his situation only seems to decline as the season goes on. Fortunately, some of LeBlanc's funniest performances this season are in the moments where he's frustrated or aggravated. That may be some residual Joey-affection talking there, as I would have probably said the same thing about LeBlanc's Friends character. On that subject, as advertised, there are a few nods to Friends later in the season, emphasizing Matt LeBlanc's low status among that cast. This leads to a brief but pretty fantastic cameo that Friends fans won't want to miss.
Episodes stays true to form in its second season, managing to recapture a similar pace and rhythm after a solid debut season and also bring a clever, witty perspective on the inner-workings of a TV show, from an obviously comedic angle that probably shouldn't be taken at face value. John Pankow returns to his role as the oft-stressed TV executive Merc Lapidus and Katheleen Rose Perkins is also back playing Carol Rance, Merc's mistress and right-hand man. There's a pretty hilarious moment in the premiere when he two "celebrate" the pilot ratings together, and their relationship takes an interesting turn later on in Season 2.
What I liked so much about what creators David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik did with the first season applies somewhat to how I feel about Season 2. Episodes layers itself, with multiple stories being told, not simply through the various characters, but through what's happening within the series. Season 1 found a balance between the development of a TV pilot, the joining together of the actors, writers and network execs, Beverly and Sean's attempts to adapt to Hollywood culture and Matt's involvement in their lives on a personal level. There was a lot to sort through, but they managed to bring it all together nicely, and also seemed to strike a fitting balance between British and U.S. humor. Season 2 does that as well, taking the story further and sifting through the aftermath of Season 1. Having found the first season to be a fresh and amusing comedic look inside the TV industry from the perspective of two British people who have no idea what they're in for, I liked where Season 2 takes the story and expect other fans of the show to appreciate what's ahead as well.
Episodes Season 2 premieres Sunday, July 1 at 10:30 p.m. ET on Showtime.
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