This review contains spoilers
We rejoin the characters of BBC2’s Episodes four months after the first season finale and shortly before the premiere of the first episode of sitcom-within-a-sitcom, ‘Pucks’. Sean is now separated from Beverly and trying to distance himself from Beverly and Matt, while they are both trying to gain his forgiveness. This reversal of the programme’s dynamic works well and helps to prevent it from repeating itself. Beyond the main trio of Sean, Beverly, and Matt, the characterisation is largely the same. Merc is still cheating on his blind wife Jamie (Genevieve O’Reilly) with network executive Carol (Kathleen Perkins), and is just as big a monster as he was in series one while Carol is still Beverly’s only real friend and still wishing that Merc would leave Jamie. Although it’s a shame that there’s much change in the rest of the cast, it helps the series to fall back on these familiar characters after such big changes to the main trio. Plus, Merc and Carol’s sex scene provides some big laughs.
A development that really comes out of left-field is the beginning of a storyline involving Jamie that shows that she has real hidden depths and isn’t just a saintly charity worker and the unwitting butt of Merc’s jokes. The establishment of her character throughout series one as somebody without a malicious bone in her body really helps with this plot’s impact and it’s going to be really interesting to see how it pans out.
Teenage comedian Eros Vlahos and the other actors playing characters in ‘Pucks’ have been replaced and other elements of the fictional show have been altered as it enters its first full season. This is another element of the episode that works well as it’s reflecting the reality of television production.
The character of Sean and Beverly’s PA, Wendy, seems a little one-note as she’s workshy and used to abuse from her superiors. Though given that she’s such a minor character, this isn’t all that surprising. She does provide one of the episode’s biggest laughs though when Beverly reads a scathing review of ‘Pucks’ and calls the reviewer an arsehole, Wendy walks in believing that Beverly was referring to her.
The episode ends on a subtle but still fairly dramatic note as the camera pans over to Beverly’s birthday present to Sean right after a scene that shows he’s moving on from their marriage. It’s a little bit heartbreaking in itself and is a terrific way to end such a strong first episode.
I’m going to come out and say it, this episode disappointed me. It has too many things going on, there are too many characters thrown into the mix and, bar a few significant developments, it just doesn’t go anywhere. Much like the fourth episode of series one.
The plots just feel a little bit meandering. Beverly is largely removed from the mix and Carol is given a subplot involving casting director Andy Button (Jacob May) whom Merc fired for having faith in a show he (Merc) didn’t like which, at this point in the series, is owned by another network and getting higher ratings than ‘Pucks’. The plot just feels like filler and doesn’t really add much because so little of Andy has been seen before and his only character trait is that he’s an ambitious young suck-up who tells people what they want to hear. He’s essentially just a younger version of Carol but with less power. The plot involving him and Carol just seems wasted as it’s resolved by the end of the episode and the only significant thing it does is show even further how little power Merc really has and that it’s his bosses in New York who really run things.
The worst thing about this episode is actually born from the sub-plot involving Andy. With Carol occupied trying to stop Andy from suing the network for unfair dismissal, Daisy Haggard’s character Myra Licht is pushed to the forefront, which is a bit like shooting the episode in the leg in that when Haggard is the focus of a scene’s attention, the programme is slow and limps forward. But I’m not slating Haggard completely. She’s a good actress and Psychoville proved she’s got great comic timing, even if her American accent leaves a lot to be desired. Even with her dialogue being so limited, the accent really grates because it sounds so forced. Also, Licht herself is dull and a one-joke character. Licht is the head of comedy for Merc’s TV network but she’s uninteresting, says little, and seems to have almost no knowledge of comedy, cutting good jokes from the ‘Pucks’ scripts and not even knowing that, in a script, a beat means a pause. This combined with Haggard’s somewhat stale performance makes it a real chore to watch the character. I echo Beverly’s decision that she never wants to do a script read-through with Myra again.
The scenes with Matt still trying to get Sean’s forgiveness contrast hugely with his sub-plot which serves only to reinforce his immorality. And because a scene where he makes a heartfelt speech about how much he regrets sleeping with Beverly comes reasonably soon after an advancement of the aforementioned sub-plot, his speech loses some gravitas and is a little jarring, making it harder to sympathise with the character. Granted, hypocrisy has been an element of the character from day one, but in this case it stunts the development that his last scene with Sean is trying to give him.
But these little niggles may just me overanalysing a tad. The episode has some great moments and held my attention well. The second episode isn’t a disaster but it’s not great either. Let’s hope it’s just a blip and the next episode returns the series to form.