August 04, 2017
Talk about your good news/bad news conundrums.
The good news is that a new season of the brilliant Showtime sitcom, “Episodes,” is almost upon us. The bad news is that the 10-installment arc that commences Aug. 20 represents the last batch of new episodes we will ever see.
Created by Main Line native David Crane (who devised “Friends” with Broomall native Marta Kauffman) and his life/creative partner, Jeffrey Klarik, “Episodes” stands as the most wickedly delicious send-up of the television industry since “The Larry Sanders Show” went dark in 1998.
The series’ basic premise is, in and of itself, an indictment of the medium that arguably remains America’s most potent pop culture force (even in this digital, hand-held-device world of ours): A married British couple, Sean and Beverly Lincoln (Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig) are the creators and producers of a celebrated British sitcom called “Lyman’s Boys.” Genteel and sophisticated in tone and execution, the fictional series revolves around the life of a beloved boys’ boarding school headmaster.
The couple is ultimately lured to Hollywood by Merc Lapidus (John Pankow), a paragon of show businesses sleaze and phoniness, who swears up and down to the reluctant pair that, with their assent, “Lyman’s Boys” will be faithfully and dutifully recreated by his (unnamed) American TV network.
Needless to say, Bev and Sean—who have uprooted their lives to go to Hollywood—are barely unpacked before the network, in all its idiocy, turns the gentle tale of a brink-of-elderly British headmaster into “Pucks,” a smarmy, sexual-innuendo-laden piece of dreck starring—TaDa!—the real-life Matt LeBlanc.
Hilarity ensues as the forces that propel Hollywood send “Pucks” deeper into the sewer. The prickly, unhappy-from-head-to-toe Beverly, and the sweet and eager-to-please Sean can only watch in fascinated horror as their baby is turned into a gruesome—and gruesomely unfunny—mess.
The upcoming season deals with the Lincolns’ efforts to launch another series for the same network—a drama called “The Opposite of Us”—with the addition of an unwanted third creative partner.
Television is a writer’s medium, and the scripts by Crane and Klarik are the very definition of “comedy gold.” Their biting, bitchy lines pierce conversations like a prison shiv, and the characters are finely tuned and emphatically human, with all the vulnerabilities, personality flaws and idiosyncrasies that entail.
Their biting, bitchy lines pierce conversations like a prison shiv, and the characters are finely tuned and emphatically human, with all the vulnerabilities, personality flaws and idiosyncrasies that entail."
For instance, Bev’s seething contempt for the Hollywood scene and its poisonous celebrity culture is effortlessly – if only temporarily – neutralized by a visit to a “swag suite,” a made-in-Tinseltown ritual whereby fabulously wealthy celebs are gifted with all manner of expensive (and not-so-expensive) goods and services in hopes said A-listers will endorse said products and services. Breathing life into the characters is a dream of an ensemble cast. As the Lincolns, Mangan and Greig are a joy to watch, carefully calibrating their emotions, and delivering dialogue (between themselves and others) with Swiss-watch-precision timing.
LeBlanc is a revelation, creating another in an increasingly long line of memorable TV characters who are at once self-absorbed, insufferably vain and superficial, but nonetheless intrinsically likable. And he deserves props for being unabashedly willing to sculpt such a dunderheaded version of himself.
Rounding out the superb troupe are Pankow as Merc, the soulless, sex-obsessed one-time network head who set the story in motion, Kathleen Rose Perkins as Carol Rance, a network exec permanently ensconced in the Land of Denial, and who never met a boss she didn’t jump into bed with (regardless of gender), and Mircea Monroe as the aging ingenue, Morning Randolph.
Special mention must be made of Daisy Haggard, whose secondary character, the somewhat peculiar Myra Licht, makes my ribs hurt every time she is on screen. As rendered by Haggard, Myra is a clueless lump who has a look that suggests she is perpetually sucking on rancid lemons. She heads the network’s comedy development department, even though it’s clear she wouldn’t know funny if it bit off her nose and replaced it with a Fidget Spinner. Haggard doesn’t even need to speak to send me into hysterics: Her facial expressions alone are funnier than 98 percent of anything else on television.
For more on “Episodes,” click here.
Chuck Darrow is a veteran entertainment columnist and critic. Listen to “That’s Show Biz with Chuck Darrow” 3 p.m. Tuesdays on WWDB-AM (860), WWDBAM.com, iTunes, iHeartRadio, and TuneInRadio.
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