“Hockey works. We could call it Pucks.” So ended the previous instalment of Episodes, as producer Merc Lapidus and actor Matt LeBlanc continue to run roughshod over Sean and Beverly’s television comedy.
Given the overall excellence of episode two, I was left wondering, as the credits rolled last week, just how the sitcom could scale the same heights a week later. Perhaps sensing that the momentum of last week’s show was impossible to replicate, writers David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik appear to have intentionally eased off the throttle for episode three. The result is an episode that’s less consistently funny, but nevertheless has plenty of great, isolated lines of dialogue.
Taking place a few days after Merc and Matt had decided to change the name of Sean and Beverly’s sitcom from Lyeman’s Boys to the crass-sounding Pucks!, episode three opens with the newly rechristened show in production. Lapidus noisily eats fruit all the way through a read-through of the revised script, and LeBlanc appears in his tailor-made role as a womanising hockey coach.
Already hinted at last week, there’s a simmering sexual tension building between Beverly and Matt LeBlanc, in episode three. This is illustrated in a scene where Matt tries to talk Beverly into changing one of the show’s characters from lesbian to heterosexual (a suggestion Beverly tersely rejects), which, in turn, sets the scene for a singularly awkward confrontation at the episode’s conclusion.
If Sean appears to be entirely oblivious to the frisson of attraction between Matt and Beverly, that’s because he’s developing a bit of crush on the former Friends actor himself. The pair end up on an impromptu boys’ outing in Las Vegas, and just as Sean’s about to confront Matt about the character changes he suggested earlier, he’s distracted by the svelte allure of a white Italian sports car.
LeBlanc (the actor) plays up to his alpha male, womanising image in his fictionalised role here, and it’s evident that he’s as much of an enemy (at least to Sean and Beverly’s career and marriage) as Merc Lapidus. Slyly hiding behind his jock persona, his more conniving side comes out now and again, utters an observation of surprising insight, before popping back into hiding.
The two-faced nature of both LeBlanc and Lapidus is simultaneously one of Episodes‘ best assets, yet potentially its long-term stumbling block. While both LeBlanc and John Pankow are great value in their respective roles, the show’s central joke, that Hollywood is a snake pit where creative people will inevitably find themselves covered in bites, is already showing signs of wearing thin, such is its repeated use.
There are parallels, in fact, with the show-within-a-show, Pucks!, and Episodes itself. One of episode three’s key exchanges, between Sean and Matt, is on the topic of comedy and longevity. Matt’s argument for changing a key character from a lesbian to a heterosexual is to give the show more scope for future stories. “You’ve got to give yourself places for stories to go,” he says, summoning up some of that wisdom he keeps carefully hidden. With four more shows to go in Episodes‘ current run, it, too, needs to start finding new ways for its story to go, you might argue.
Yet, as predictable as episode three is, there are still some entertaining moments and great lines of dialogue this week. There’s a great line from Merc that succinctly epitomises his lack of interest in television (“Remind me. Who’s running that shitty talking dog show?” asks Merc. “We are,” says his weary assistant). And while a running gag about the size of Matt LeBlanc’s penis isn’t particularly funny for the most part, individual exchanges regarding it are (“It’s like a sea creature. Like something out of Jules Verne.”), leading to a denouement that’s frustrating and awkward for Beverly, but quite amusing for the rest of us.
Read our review of episode 2 here.
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