TONIGHT: LeBlanc returns for more Episodes

Matt LeBlanc tries to give Sean (Stephen Mangan) a car on Episodes

One of the juiciest satires of the TV business returns tonight as Episodes kicks off its second season. The Matt LeBlanc comedy airs on Showtime in the U.S.and premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on The Movie Network/Movie Central.

Episodes does for sitcoms—especially shows transplanted from Britainto America—what The Larry Sanders Show did for late night talk shows. It takes the ugly truth of Hollywoodand magnifies it, allowing audiences in on all the lying, hypocritical bullshit that goes into making network television.
The extra joke for Canadian audiences is that LeBlanc’s fictional sitcom within this sitcom is a hockey comedy called Pucks.
A few months ago, I spoke with Jimmy Mulville, the British comedian and one of the executive producers of Episodes. The interview was for a story on the series I wrote for the July issue of Movie Entertainment magazine.
Mulville quickly brought me up to date on where the series picks up. The British couple who created the original U.K.comedy, Sean and Beverly (Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig), remain split after their American star, Matt LeBlanc, crossed the line and slept with Beverly. “Sean is still very sore about what happened,” Mulville says on the phone from London. “Matt desperately wants his friendship back with Sean, and Beverlydesperately wants her marriage back, but Sean is having none of it. So they’re in kind of a Mexican standoff.”
In a true Hollywood power move, LeBlanc tries to get back into both of their good books by buying each of them a car. Says Sean, “So you think you can actually make it all right—you screwed my wife—just by buying me a Nissan?” To which LeBlanc replies, “You want a f–ing Bentley? It’s not like I killed your wife.”
I’ve watched the first three episodes of the new season and they live up to the promise of the first as well as to Mulville’s descriptions of what comes next. Episodes is knowing and funny, all the more so because creators/executive producers David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik base everything on their actual experiences dealing with network weasels.
The cherry on top is LeBlanc’s delicious send up of himself, or rather the Hollywood phoney he easily could have become. “Matt’s characterization is a fantastically detailed examination of celebrity,” says Mulville. What is being explored is this: “When you’re that rich and that famous, do the regular rules really apply?”
Mulville, himself an actor/comedian as well as a writer and producer (he used to perform on the British version of Whose Line Is It Anyway?), thinks LeBlanc brave to play a darker, more sophisticated yet dysfunctional version of himself. “We take this character Matt LeBlanc to really, really brave places,” says Mulville. LeBlanc was rewarded with a Golden Globe Best Actor win for his performance last season.
In Season Two, things start to unravel for his cocky character. People question whether he should have the leading role in Puck, the fictional series the British showrunners have been forced to re-imagine from their original U.K.hit. We see LeBlanc descend into bouts of drinking and other erratic behaviour. “It’s very black and funny and painful and truthful,” says Mulville. “The writers paint with such brutally honest colours.”
Script writers will either laugh or cry at a scene in an early episode this season where an incredibly dim network underling is giving the Brit creators notes after a table read. The woman dryly asks if a reference to “bats” can be removed from the script. Sean explains the word is “beats.” The woman is uncomprehending. Beverlyexplains that they mean pauses. Adds Sean: “We like the pauses, so why don’t we shoot the pauses, and if you still don’t like them we can always have them cut in post.
A really long beat. The woman finally says, “Okay.”
Brilliant.
Joining the series this season is James Purefoy (Rome) who plays a house painter who becomes very attracted to Beverly. “We take all these characters and put them in funny, more dangerous places,” says Mulville.
Mulville does confirm that one of LeBlanc’s famous friends from Friends makes an appearance in Season Two, but he won’t say who it is. “We do it in our own, inimitable, very screwed up way. It’s not what you’d expect.”

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