There’s something reliably satisfying about watching smug, successful people come horribly unstuck, and television comedy is full of characters who exist to suffer for our entertainment. In Episodes, we watch as the dreams and aspirations of husband and wife comedy writing duo Sean (Stephen Mangan) and Beverly (Tamsin Greig) go horribly awry.
Within minutes of winning a BAFTA for their comedy, Lyeman’s Boys, the couple are accosted by a slick, enthusiastic LA television executive, Merc Lapidus, who wants to adapt their show for an American audience.
Seduced by a basket of loganberries and dreams of insane wealth, Sean and Beverly waste little time on mulling over their options, and before long they’ve exchanged the rain and gloom of London for the blue skies of Los Angeles.
Predictably, things begin to go wrong the second they get off the plane. Far from the straight adaptation they were hoping, Sean and Beverly soon discover that their friend and series star, Julian (Richard Griffiths), will have to audition for a role they’d assumed was already his.
Little by little, the couple’s work is taken apart and rearranged, as erudite thespian Julian is first humiliated and then replaced by the entirely unsuitable Matt LeBlanc (who plays himself).
As a setup for the six episodes that make up the rest of the series, this first instalment in Episodes works well enough, introducing its almost unbearably smug protagonists before gradually chipping away at their confidence over the course of the show.
Unfortunately, many of the situations that Episodes presents are all too predictable, and most of its events can be guessed several scenes before they actually occur. While pleasantly entertaining, there are also surprisingly few genuine laughs. Aside from a brief incident with a polystyrene doric column (a scene that perfectly epitomises the superficiality of Hollywood in general), Episodes sits more comfortably in the genre of drama than comedy.
This is further underlined by the apparent brevity of the show’s format. When the closing credits roll after half an hour, it feels as though the story’s barely got into its stride, and this opening instalment may have been better served with an hour long special.
Nevertheless, Greig and Mangan are watchable as the bickering lead couple, and David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik’s material doesn’t exactly provide much of a stretch for their talents. They frequently carry this opening episode through its leaner moments.
Given that Crane and Klarik’s previous work includes Friends and Mad About You, it’s perhaps a little surprising that Episodes isn’t more reliably amusing than it is. All too frequently, the show achieves the awkwardness of, say, Extras or The Office (both of which appear to have influenced it to a minor degree), without their distinctive, comedic bite. But still, we’re only at episode one.
Thus, it’s quite likely that, with the Episodes premise now established, the series will provide more laughs as it wears on. And with Matt LeBlanc playing a far more prominent role in future episodes, it’s just possible that his addition to the mix will set off the comedy fireworks the show needs.
Episodes airs on Mondays at 10:00pm on BBC2.
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