Thursday, January 27, 2011

TV review: EPISODES


Reader Travis Puterbaugh wrote: "Ken, how about a column on "Episodes," the new Showtime series. Have you seen it yet?"

I feel bad reviewing a show that’s on SHOWTIME since not all of my readers can watch it. But I see that you can go on line to Hulu and places like that and screen episodes, so what the hell?


I have seen EPISODES, and I enjoy it. I do have some issues but first the good stuff. Kathleen Rose Perkins, as the network VP of Comedy is so pitch-perfect dead-on that it makes me cringe and roar with laughter every time she opens her mouth. Creators David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik know of whom they write.  Ms. Perkins portrayal is nothing short of inspired character assassination.

Her assistant, played by Daisy Haggard, also kills me. She’s a network executive in comedy development with zero sense of humor and less-than-zero personality. You may watch it and think, “Well, then how does a person like that get that job?” And the answer is, “I’ve been wondering the same thing for twenty years!” (In fairness, not all network comedy execs are blank like that, but in any given meeting there always seems to be one.)

The other revelation is Matt LeBlanc. He’s smart! Who knew? He plays a (hopefully) distorted version of himself -- the self-centered asshole star. But what I really like is (a) the real-life Matt is a good sport for allowing himself to be portrayed like that, and (b) he knows to play the character equal parts monster and equal parts charming. That’s what elevates him from a villain to what America really loves to see -- a true psychopath.


The premise is loosely based on Steven Moffat and his wife Sue Vertue, who created COUPLING for the BBC. (COUPLING is my favorite sitcom from the last ten years.) It was a big hit in England and NBC talked them into overseeing a U.S. version. NBC, and by that I mean Jeff Zucker, then proceeded to change and ruin every single aspect of the show. Similarly, in EPISODES, a British couple with a hit series are seduced into making an American version, and they too are thwarted at every turn.

My only problem is this (and I had the same problem with the movie TV SET): At some point, the showrunners (in this case, the British couple) are going to say no. When the network won’t approve the British star of their series (HISTORY BOY’S extraordinary Richard Griffiths) and instead force Matt LeBlanc upon them, it’s very very funny, but the truth is the showrunners would say, “Fuck no! We’re going back to London. Kiss our ass!” And when Matt LeBlanc wants to change the character from a boarding school teacher to a hockey coach, I laughed, but again, the showrunners would say, “We’re so outta here.  Cheeri-fucking-oh!”. It just makes me uncomfortable to see showrunners portrayed with absolutely no spine. Because here’s the dirty little secret: You might as well fight and do the show your way because even if you do all of their suggestions, and even if you surrender to them at every turn, if the show doesn’t work YOU still get blamed.

So that’s my issue, and I know it’s a personal one. I understand that you need to exaggerate, you’re doing satire, and you have to take some creative license. But that’s why I’m so in love with Kathleen Rose Perkins. As outrageous and horrifying as her character is – it’s not an exaggeration. She’s real!

EPISODES is worth watching. It's a fun send-up of television.   You'll laugh till you hang yourself. 

27 comments:

Rebecca said...

As far as I can tell, you can only screen the first episode. I'd love to watch the series episodes online, but they aren't available. I can see not making them available online until after they're shown on air, but why not make them available afterward? I'd even watch commercials with it. That's what TNT does with Leverage, though of course TNT is not a pay channel.

Claire said...

After not being a great fan of the first episode (a cliffhanger over a character having had a wank which we already know happened because he admitted it?), the second and third eps won me over.

The biggest problem I have (and it was the same with Studio 60) is that the show-within-the-show seems to be... pretty rubbish. It's possible that will end up being part of the joke, but at the moment it's bugging me... we'll see how it turns out though.

Loving the

Anonymous said...

I am loving this show. As Claire said, the first episode was a little slow, but the next two were great! This show has some real potential!

And Daisy Haggard's expressions... gold!

Heidi said...

I was sure in the first episode that I could even tell which network the execs are being portrayed as being from, especially with the way they refer with such reverence to the clearly insane network head (*cough Moonves cough*).

IBG said...

Ken-- Completely agree with your assessment of the show. I've seen all three and am always left wanting more. But as for the creators telling "Zucker" to fuck off -- I think that's what the show's about. The tension between husband and wife is the torment that goes on in any writer who gets a show on: how much do I compromise to keep this going? I'll give them their pilot, then do my show. I did one pilot and did every network note. I was accused of having no vision. I did another and fought the stupid notes like crazy. I was accused of being hard to work with and in danger of being replaced. Both shows got picked up. Both died. But that's the dance and I love watching these smart, passionate people fight the power while getting seduced by McHollywood. It's the creative death by a thousand cuts.

Ingull said...

Thanks for posting this...critics are kind of hating on the show, and I think it's okay. It's not going to be appointment TV for me, but way above 90% of what's on broadcast TV. I'm liking LeBlanc in this.

Matt Patton said...

Great to see you giving a shout-out to Daisy Haggard--she is one of the best comic actresses I've ever seen (I discovered her on a sketch-comedy show called ManStokeWoman, where just about everybody was incredibly funny and she still managed to stand out). The incredible thing is that she does it with a grand total of about three lines an episode.

Anonymous said...

Dead on analysis. When I saw the first show I completely went to Couplings - my favorite, too; brilliantly structured and written - but do you know if it's based on what happened to Moffat or just assuming it as I had. Whichever, the writing and the actors are great. Solid comedy. And frankly, we have so many great and original comedies these days it's a new Golden Age.

Lou W said...

Moffat on Episodes:

Steven Moffat has admitted that he finds the scenario presented in new comedy series Episodes "painfully familiar".

The show, which airs on Showtime in the US and BBC Two in the UK, follows two British writers (Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Grieg) who move to Hollywood to remake their successful sitcom, only to have the project completely altered by network executives.

Moffat, whose own BBC show Coupling was remade into a short-lived NBC series, wrote on Twitter: "I laughed a lot at Episodes. It might be a specialised market, but dear God, those scenes with the execs aren't even exaggerated."

Anonymous said...

I'm a little confused about "notes" from the network. Are they suggestions or requirements?

Steven E. Gordon said...

One of the things I liked most about the show was how they allowed LeBlanc to also be smart and not just a monster. when he suggested the Lesbian be changed to a heterosexual it all seemed for laughs and to make him appear like a fool, but when he actually explained it and took into account the difference between TV seasons here and in Britain it made him into the smart one.
excellent show - though not as good as Coupling (yet?)

gwangung said...

I'm a little confused about "notes" from the network. Are they suggestions or requirements?

Yes.

Hollywoodaholic said...

There's definitely a little masochism involved in enjoying this show, but the tension is wating for the couple to snap. Too bad the lead in (for the first run airings, at least) is that other 'insider' show (Californication)that bears no resemblance to reality, features no character worth rooting for, and is just bad writing and plotting. People turn in for the boobs, I guess. Plus, there's some nudity.

chris said...

They could get out of this buy so easily. Just have them raise the issue and the network say, "You signed a contract. We own you for 7 years."

Ken Misch said...

Ken,

Did you ever watch the show "Beggars & Choosers?" It was on Showtime a decade ago and was about network television. I always found it entertaining and wanted to get your opinion.

Phillip B said...

Off topic Friday question, borrowed from the LA Times blog reporting Will Farrell will be doing a story arc on THE OFFICE while Rickey Gervais is also doing a cameo.

How many guest stars are too many?

Matt Patton said...

My spelling gets worse as I age. The sketch show with Daisy Haggard was called ManStrokeWoman. The other women in that show were Amanda Abbington and Meredith MacNeil and they were a howl too.

Somersby said...

"Coupling" had some incredibly inventive and funny moments (doing half and episode in English, then doing it again in Hebrew so we really get to understand the root of the mix-up. Bloody briliant.) I've really taken to Episodes as well. I am surprised by the beat down it's taking from so many critics, though. Tamsin Greig is particularly wonderful -- and watchable! Really worth checking out.

Anonymous said...

I think the TV Set is a far sharper piece of work than this series. While it has its good moments (LeBlanc, the "head of comedy", etc.), some of the humor is extremely broad and lazy. The network head in particular is a ridiculous (and, even worse) a consistently unfunny cartoon.

Ken, regarding your point about showrunners and spines. At least in "The TV Set", Duchovny's character was raising a family and had a pregnant wife. We knew he wanted to walk away, but needed the job security.

These freewheeling Brits literally have nothing to lose and their spinelessness makes them difficult to sympathize with.

-Garrett

Anonymous said...

You can watch Episodes online via the BBC iPlayer. Install Expatshield as a free VPN (careful - it does put irritating and mildly NSFC ads up on your webpages and can be intrusive if you don't disconnect) and you can access all UK-only sites (also the ITV webplayer).

Dave F said...

Ken-

If the showrunners threatened to walk, wouldn't the network still have the right to the show? Don't the creators sign that away? So, if the showrunners didn't stay, their creation would be destroyed without the showrunners protecting it?

Anonymous said...

But, but...but if the showrunners had the balls you want there'd be no show. They're fish out of water and they're Brit fish. Brit fish are enamored of Hollywood. They cut off their balls FOR Hollywood.

Mel Ryane said...

Big yeech, I hate anonymous comments; I wasn't logged in for the above. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

Adam Carolla said on his podcast that NBC pass on his remake of Top Gear because of the failure of Knight Rider. They tough america didn't watch car show anymore.

Some TV exec should write a tell-all book about a screw-up the business is.

Episodes is good. Always tough LeBlanc was perceived unfairly. You do one baseball movie with a monkey and then nobody respect your acting ability...

-Pierre-Luc

escalante blogger said...

Perhaps, you are also guys a fanatic of this show. :-)

A_Homer said...

After reading this I just watched all three episodes so far, and it was pretty great. It's not "Extras" in terms of that something deeper but it has another charm, especially using Matt LeBlanc, because he is contributing a necessary tension to the married writer-couple. Perfect casting. He's good!

When he wishes to convert the lesbian character to straight -- he finally explains it in real-life terms: the original series was four years in Britain, about 24 episodes in total. The American series would spit out 24 and demand more -- a hit running to 3 or 4 times that, so the writers should leave places to go: couples. And he compared it to couples that were significant in tv history - he mentioned "Friends" Ross and Rachel and "Cheers" Sam and Diane, and then when he got to "Frasier" ... he couldn't actually connect Frasier with anyone - perfectly well done bit but also having a grain of truth, he knows of what he speaks.

As of the showrunner issue, I agree it seems unrealistic -- but maybe the point being emphasized at this stage is they are "British" and don't yet know to walk the walk in this system and she is willing to walk but he isn't, so it makes their husband-wife dynamic all the more uneasy as she is the alpha in the group. And for now, it seems interesting how Matt has to get around her. Female characters in general in this show seem to be the more compelling. That being done now in Episode 3, I'm curious about the rest, especially as the first episode introduces it all with an auto accident and all this is flashback.

Adam Bowie said...

Here's a couple of reasons why the showrunners might *not* quite even in the face of outrageous changes inflicted on them by the network:

1. Us Brits are strangely enamoured of Hollywood. It'd be quite nice to prove yourself.

2. Think of the money! Nobody is going to get megarich making sitcoms in the UK. But if you get a US hit like The Office, for which you get a fee every week for 22 episodes a year for five years, then suddenly you're Ricky Gervais. The big car and enormous house have a lot of clout, even if the smog means you're view isn't that great.