If Judge P.S. Colbert really wanted to see a pair of homely Limeys, he would lie down until the feeling passed.
Our review of Episodes: The First Season, published June 25th, 2012, is also available.
"It's like watching a car wreck, only he's driving both cars!"
The good news: Showtime has bundled the sixteen half-hour segments of its irreverent sitcom Episodes: The Complete First & Second Seasons into one reasonably priced package.
The bad news: any devoted fan who picked up the Episodes: The First Season set released just seven months ago will be forced to pay for those seven "episodes" again in order to collect Season Two, which isn't being sold separately!
Having seen the lot, I've got news for those who pounced early on the first set: consider yourselves lucky and quit while you're ahead.
Facts of the Case
Sean Lincoln (Steven Mangan) and his wife Beverly (Tasmin Greig) are the creative geniuses behind Lyman's Boys, the smash British sitcom that swept all major UK television awards during its four season run. Like so many before them, these Brit-wits are lured over the pond to Hollywood by piles of money, and in this case, a charismatic network executive named Merc Lapidus (John Pankow, Mad About You), who proposes that they adapt Lyman for American TV. Once they've signed on, the Lincolns soon learn that they've pretty much signed their freedoms away, and before they know it, their quaint comedy about the elderly headmaster of a boy's school, and his fumbling, futile pining for the lesbian librarian he works with has been renamed Pucks! and transformed into a raucous, leering comedy about a hockey coach who presides over a group of horny teens and trades double-entendres with the hot blond librarian who wears skirts so short that Beverly (rightly) calls them "gynecological." Why the drastic changes? All to accommodate the star who's been attached to the project: Matt LeBlanc (Friends).
Constructed entirely from borrowed parts and aimed squarely at the lowest common denominator, Episodes came up to bat with so many strikes already against it, the fact that it's been allowed two swings already suggests either a miracle or the need for a criminal investigation.
Here we have a behind-the-scenes look at TV series production that goes for laughs while simultaneously exposing the glamor industry's seamy underbelly—i.e. the infantile, vainglorious star, the tyrannical, two-faced head honcho and his quivering cadre of yes-persons, the eternally put-upon but generally decent writing staff dolefully sacrificing their private lives to the ever-increasing demands of their work, etcetera, etcetera.
If any of this sounds even remotely edgy to you, then call for help immediately, because you're trapped in the fall of 1961 and waiting on The Dick Van Dyke Show to premiere! Not to put too fine a point on it, but for the record, Episodes is the third behind-the-scenes look at TV series production starring an ex- Friends cast member.
The Friends connection is heavy here; co-creator David Crane was one of the brains behind that iconic romantic sitcom, and no doubt the impetus for tapping Matt LeBlanc, who seemed destined for oblivion after the debacle of his Joey spinoff. A genius move, that: the one consistently successful element here is LeBlanc, whose portrayal as "himself" during the first season earned him a much-deserved Golden Globe, and represented the last flickering hope for this series being able to transcend its shopworn premise and (otherwise) stale characterizations.
To be fair, the second season isn't without laughs, but gross caricatures and rusty plot mechanics have completely taken over—cue jokes and situations involving eating disorders, surgical enhancements, sexual dysfunction, and back-stabbing with a smile, Hollywood style.
While he continues to hit his marks with consummate skill, season deux reduces LeBlanc, for the most part, to playing a foul-mouthed, aggressively amoral version of Joey Tribbiani. Oh, and don't get me started about the series' low point, where LeBlanc is bullied into trying to get one his Friends co-stars for a cameo appearance on Pucks! in order to boost its flagging ratings.
With its own lack of consumer interest to worry about, Episodes: The Complete First & Second Seasons tries putting its best foot forward with a solid—if unspectacular—1.78:1 transfer, and your choice of 5.1 surround or 2.0 stereo audio accompaniments. There's an optional Spanish (stereo) track, and English subtitles are provided. Unfortunately, the Showtime Entertainment DVD set positively steps in it with regard to "special features": scant cast biographies and a photo gallery—meh.
Don't get me wrong, Episodes certainly has its entertainment value, but this double helping is too much by half. My advice for maximum enjoyment? Pick up the First Season set and pretend that Showtime passed on a second season altogether—things would have been much better that way.
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