Episodes - In The Press
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'Episodes' season 4 preview: more Hollywood mayhem
Four seasons on, Showtime's Episodes reads like an affectionate breakup letter to Hollywood. It's the "I love you, but..." Its primary source of humor is and always has been the pain that's caused by the very industry the series is a part of, and there's nothing more painful - and therefore more entertaining - than what happens in season four, which premieres tonight in the USA.
Written by Brittany S. Frederick. Starpulse, 11th January 2015
Plot twists! Mad monologues! Laugh-out-loud moments! Once again, Episodes builds up a head of comic steam just in time for… the end of a series. It's as if the writers work back from the finale and use previous instalments to fill in gaps. Fair enough if you're writing, say, a conspiracy thriller, but odd with a sitcom, where you need to fire zingers each week.
All the same, it's a joy to see Tamsin Greig given some comic red meat for a change. Moaning and snarking has become Beverly's default mode, from which Greig can work wonders, but now things kick up a gear. Her and Sean's script is suddenly the hottest thing in Hollywood, but Beverly doesn't care. She wants out. Cue a lovely, farcical climax with a furious routine from Beverly about Hollywood power games, using a china teacup as a prop.
It's not the only set piece of the episode. Elsewhere crazy network boss Castor lays into the TV business from another angle, in a public implosion that ends with the memorable sign-off, "How about that, my zombies?!"
David Butcher, Radio Times, 9th July 2014
Now the cat is out of the bag - or, more accurately, the script is in front of a newly off-his-meds Castor - the net appears to be closing in on Bev and Sean, forcing them to stay in LA and potentially make the show that everyone already seems to love. Bev's sense is prevailing, but Sean is wavering. Soon, Carol is offering them the world, while new agent Eileen has the networks fighting over them. Is the carrot enough? Or are they afraid of getting beaten by the stick all over again? Last in the series.
Ben Arnold, The Guardian, 9th July 2014
In this episode we meet Matt LeBlanc's dad, his imaginary screen dad, in the best scene of the series so far. Stories have appeared on TMZ that Matt has gone into rehab, and Matt knows where they came from: he forgot to send dad his cheque, and this is revenge. So he storms round there - with Sean and Beverly in tow - to confront him.
What follows has more comic voltage than the entirety of some previous episodes, as the pair trade insults in front of the mortified Brits - and few actors do mortified better than Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan. It's a cracking set piece and elsewhere the plot is coming to a boil nicely. Also, look out: in the delightfully tasteless mental health storyline, unbalanced network boss Castor is off his meds.
David Butcher, The Radio Times, 2nd July 2014
Another instalment of Episodes potters along enjoyably without ever quite firing into comic life. Sean is more tempted than Beverly to entertain offers for their other script now Pucks! is doomed, but she can't wait to leave Hollywood and head home.
We know this is leading up to something, but boy, do the writers string it out. Meanwhile, there's more sobering, midlife misery for Matt when he bumps into his stalker, Labia (Sophie Rundle), and realises she's over him, leading to a nice heart-to-heart with Sean: "It's just weird knowing I'll probably never have another one... Do you think Harrison Ford is still getting stalkers? Warren Beatty? There's a window..."
David Butcher, The Radio Times, 25th June 2014
Just when Bev and Sean thought they were out, the vacuous Hollywood telly system is trying its hardest to pull them back in, thanks to the super-perky new agent who's latched herself on to them and got them a potential new series at Fox. Bev is out, Sean seems persuadable; this being near the end of series three, could their tenure in LA be extended? Meanwhile, Carol and Castor's predominantly sex-based relationship is continuing at a sweaty pace, but she wants to take it to the next level, despite his towering indifference.
Ben Arnold, The Guardian, 25th June 2014
Three seasons in, Brit writers Bev (Tamsin Greig) and Sean (Stephen Mangan) are still trying to acclimatise to the bewildering world of Hollywood, and Matt LeBlanc is still bumbling around like a bear with a bees' nest on his head. But Episodes does feel like a sharper, snappier creature this time around, less interested in the internecine workings of the showbiz industry and more in the venal, shallow bubble around Los Angeles - new-age therapy, partner-swapping et al.
The Guardian, 21st June 2014
RIP Pucks!, the show within a show featured in the brilliant Episodes.
Having failed to compete with a rival channel's talking-dog sitcom, Pucks! was left to wither and die in the wasteland of the Saturday-night schedules.
Meanwhile, Matt LeBlanc (played by Matt LeBlanc) was busy trying to jump both ship and co-star Morning's younger sister, who was actually her daughter.
LeBlanc also found time to launch an embittered diatribe against British actors moving to Hollywood, mastering the accent and stealing all the best roles. You know who you are Elba, West, Laurie, Lewis, Pattinson, Lincoln, Sheen, Freeman...
Harry Venning, The Stage, 19th June 2014
In the final shot of last week's episode, something momentous happened: that grey plastic strip representing Pucks! in the network schedule was tossed in the bin. So the limping British/US sitcom around which this British/US sitcom is built is for the chop: "Even though nobody is willing to put a tag on the toe, this thing is dead," crows Matt LeBlanc to writers Beverly and Sean, even as he scrambles to get a part on another show.
But humiliating Matt has become Episodes' favourite blood sport and there's worse to come, as a young fan forces him to relive his Friends heyday in circumstances only this show would dare dream up.
David Butcher, Radio Times, 18th June 2014
The comedy hovers below the waist as Sean and Beverly visit a couples counsellor (a straight-talking sex therapist, it turns out) to address their problems "fornicationally". "If your vagina could speak, what would it say to Sean right now?" wonders the therapist, an invitation Beverly responds to with a beautifully eccentric piece of comedy - top work from Tamsin Greig.
But while Sean has difficulty upping his game, as it were, network boss Castor has the opposite problem, as an admiring Carol has very much noticed. Beverly thinks sleeping with the boss (again) would be a mistake: "I think he's the cliff and you're Thelma and Louise," she warns. But when did Carol ever listen to what anybody else said?
David Butcher, Radio Times, 11th June 2014
Pucks! is out of luck. The struggling sitcom has been bumped to Saturday nights, which presents awkward moments for Matt LeBlanc at the network's press party. Elsewhere, sex dominates the agenda of seemingly everyone, with Merc still battling his addiction, and Sean and Bev visiting a sex therapist and becoming all coy, mumbly and British in the process. Still not the barbed Hollywood satire it thinks it is, but Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan have an easy rapport and LeBlanc is clearly having loads of fun portraying his fictional self.
Gwilym Mumford, The Guardian, 11th June 2014
In theory he's the star of the show, but you sometimes wish we saw more of Matt LeBlanc in Episodes. There's a reason he was one of the highest-paid comic actors in the world: like a tennis pro, he hits the sweet spot of any line or reaction without breaking a sweat.
Here Matt is once again wound up by that bumptious young co-star and starts to feel that his own star is slipping: he's not washed-up, exactly, but neither is he quite the A-lister he once was. Episodes is excellent on these Hollywood status games: a trip to The Tonight Show delivers a dent to the ego (Jay Leno guest-stars as himself). But the best gags revolve around a natural disaster in Peru - and how real-life tragedy plays out in Tinseltown.
David Butcher, Radio Times, 4th June 2014
Pucks! gets bumped to a crappy slot on Saturday night, which in turns means that LeBlanc is bumped to a second-place slot on Jay Leno's Tonight Show. Unsurprisingly, he's not all that happy about it, but it does mean Leno gets a pleasingly filthy line during a cameo. Meanwhile, Merc is back at the network, but has to pitch ideas to Carol in a rather dramatic turning of the tables. New boss Sotto, who is experiencing an unusual side-effect of his psychiatric medication, swerves the meeting, much to Merc's molten chagrin.
Ben Arnold, The Guardian, 4th June 2014
Three episodes in and the third series of Episodes has settled in comfortably. Which is rather the problem. The main charm of Episodes was always its awkwardness.
Initially, Sean and Bev were the outsiders bringing their English reserve and idiom to the sledgehammer of the Hollywood TV industry; now, though, their accents apart, they are both native LA. They've long since ceased to care about the show they are writing and are jaundiced insiders in the dream-factory, churning out second-rate scripts in exchange for first-rate money. In short, a key part of the sit has gone out of the sitcom: Episodes has become exactly the type of show it used to have a pop at.
It is, at least, still a com. Tamsin Greig, Stephen Mangan and Matt LeBlanc are all wonderfully good actors with near-perfect comic timing, so there are still plenty of laughs to be had. Just not as many as there used to be. It's become routine. The scripts feel a bit saggier, though it's possible that's part of a meta gag in which writers David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik are mimicking the trajectory of Sean and Bev's own writing. If so, it's a dangerous game.
The key faultline is that Episodes has written itself into a cul-de-sac. There's nothing left to it apart from a series of relationships and most of the interesting things that can happen have already happened. Sean and Bev have split up, slept with other people and are now back together-ish, while Matt is just Matt. There's some fun to be had in the ongoing "Will Sean, Won't Sean, ever get a stiffy again?" saga, but you feel that Greig and Mangan are working overtime trying to make it funny. They know each other so well that they can finish each other's sentences and gags; more worryingly, so can I. I'm not even sure I'm that bothered whether Sean does get a stiffy or not any more.
Towards the end of this episode, Bev told Carol that she and Sean wanted to get Pucks! canned so they could go back to England. I couldn't help agreeing. Except we know that's almost certainly not going to happen as the BBC has already commissioned a fourth series. Like Sean and Bev, Episodes has become a victim of its own success.
John Crace, The Guardian, 29th May 2014
It's a banal relationship comedy, with no special ingredient at all. Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig are a geeky, immature couple, trying to write a hit show but out of their depth among the U.S. has-beens and permatanned executives. It might as well be called Californian Luvvies.
Written by Christopher Stevens. The Daily Mail, 28th May 2014
If you're someone who is always rooting for Episodes to live up to its promise, good news: now it roars into gear, after a so far slightly halting start to series three.
To begin with there's a lovely scene where a young actor on Pucks! (the show-within-a-show) goes to Matt LeBlanc for advice. He's getting offers of movie roles and he doesn't know how to choose them. "Back when you were hot, you did a lot of movies, right?" he asks. "I do not wanna be 50 and still doing sitcoms!" The fact that he makes a little gesture to Matt at this point does not endear him to the star of the show, who is now keen to get a movie role himself - at whatever cost to Pucks!
Meanwhile, Sean and Beverly try to discuss the fact that they're having "a problem, fornicationally" and the new network boss calls a 6am meeting and instructs Carol, "Tell people I expect them to bring their truth."
David Butcher, Radio Times, 28th May 2014
Welcome back LA-set sitcom Episodes for a third series, once again mixing satire and soap opera to effervescent effect. In fact, Episodes is so good that it is even helping me overcome my - admittedly irrational - aversion to Tamsin Greig.
I do have two small quibbles. First is the scarcity of my favourite character, the heroically vulgar TV producer Merc (John Pankow), who lost his job, wife and mistress at the end of series two. However, I am confident Merc will soon make a triumphant return, like some foul-mouthed phoenix, before this run finishes.
The second quibble, as a concerned licence payer, is the enormous electricity bill the BBC must be running up trying to light the Brit-based interior scenes to look like sunny California.
Harry Venning, The Stage, 22nd May 2014
Episodes (BBC Two) is a Transatlantic affair about a husband-and-wife writing team (Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig) who decamp to Los Angeles and adapt their History Boys-esque Brit hit into a dumbed-down US sitcom starring Matt LeBlanc. How very meta. How very postmodern. How very mediocre.
The cartoonish American characters supplied the lion's share of laughs. Ageing playboy LeBlanc sent himself up gamely: vain, self-destructive, increasingly doughy but still silver foxy, with enough flashes of Joey Tribbiani to keep Friends fans happy. Daisy Haggard and Kathleen Rose Perkins were funny as face-pulling, nice-but-dim network executives Myra and Carol, with a tendency to trip over their own high heels in their scramble up the career ladder.
There were some sharp lines. Matt's battle for custody of his children was undermined by his arrest for drunk-driving. "You're the worst client I've ever had," barked his lawyer (our own Nigel Planer, putting on a ropy American accent). "I'd happily trade you for two Mel Gibsons and a Tiger Woods." Carol was infatuated with her square-jawed boss but insisted: "Obviously I would never go there." Beverly (Greig) raised a sceptical eyebrow: "Pur-lease. You keep an apartment there."
Newly reconciled Beverly and Sean (Mangan) were on the rocks again after she admitted having a one-night stand. It's this central pair that are the problem. They convince as writing partners but not as a couple. Mangan, who is normally excellent (see Green Wing, Dirk Gently) comes over like a whiny student. Greig's character is the moral centre of the show but this makes her a bit blank and boring. Their chemistry is strangely sexless. A snogging scene was faintly uncomfortable, of the sort that makes a teenager go, "Ugh, Muuum, Daaad, that's disgusting!" if their parents kiss.
Somehow Episodes has made it to a third series without leaving much of an impression. A fourth has even been commissioned. Presumably it survives owing to the star power of LeBlanc. It makes the odd sharp observation about Hollywood and the fickle nature of celebrity but feels undercooked. It's so busy smugly admiring its own cleverness that it forgot to add enough jokes.
Michael Hogan, The Daily Telegraph, 21st May 2014
Although at heart it's a sitcom, the longer, dramatic storylines in Episodes mean you may not want to read on if you haven't seen the series opener...
In the biggest news, network exec Carol is set to get a new boss, having been passed over (humiliatingly) for the top job she was promised. Naturally, her colleagues are preparing their resumes, convinced the new broom will sweep them all out, but when he turns up he proves to be madder than they imagined: "I don't care if we fail," he tells Carol. "If we go down in flames at least there were flames."
Meanwhile, Matt tells his lawyer (another brief, brilliant cameo by Nigel Planer) that the drink-driving charge is nonsense. "I was so not drunk. Believe me: I've driven drunk and I know the difference."
David Butcher, Radio Times, 21st May 2014
Matt continues to seek custody of his children; not easy, after being discovered driving under the influence with his kids in the car. "You are the worst client I've ever had," drawls his lawyer. "I'd happily trade you for two Mel Gibsons and a Tiger Woods." Meanwhile, Sean is distraught after Beverly admits she slept with Rob. "You only dated him twice - so on 50% of your dates, you slept with Rob," he says. "Or, you could say I only slept with him on half our dates," she shoots back. Beautifully toe-curling television.
Ali Catterall, The Guardian, 21st May 2014
Return to lonely town: Episodes on BBC2
Given the absence of jokes, tension, consequence - and the presence of Matt LeBlanc - what is there to keep the audience of Episodes on its side?
Written by Rachel Cooke. The New Statesman, 19th May 2014
Q&A: Stephen Mangan
Stephen Mangan, 41, was born in London. He studied law at Cambridge, then went to Rada.
Written by Rosanna Greenstreet. The Guardian, 17th May 2014
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