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Friday, March 21, 2014

EPISODES Hilariously Hanging On

Article first published as EPISODES Hilariously Hanging On on TheTVKing.

Showtime's Episodes is a series that always delivers the laughs, every single time. It is the story of two Brits, Sean (Stephen Mangan) and Beverly Lincoln (Tamsin Greig), who come to America to remake their hit show from across the pond, only to find L.A. a horrible place that ruins both their work and their marriage. This week, the third season wrapped up, building towards a happy ending, then having it yanked back at the last moment.

The show within a show is called Pucks, and Pucks is just one misstep after another. The network forces Matt LeBlanc (himself) onto the Lincolns, and then the format of the show changes, and then it is retooled, and it soon resembles the original not at all. It's no wonder Sean and Beverly get fed up. By the time Pucks is canceled, we're right there with them, glad to see it go. There's no way this farce should stay on the air, and no one is watching it anyway, unlike the farce of Episodes, which should be watched by everyone.

Yet, at the end of the season finale, Elliot Salad (Michael Brandon), the big boss at the network, renews it for six more episodes. How did this happen? Like much of Episodes, it has little to do with what it should, and is instead about petty things. Salad hates NBC, which has cast LeBlanc as the lead in their new buzzy drama, so Salad refuses to cancel LeBlanc's contract. Sean, Beverly, and Matt, the three main players, have nothing to do with the decision, and are only victims of the situation.

That's much how Episodes plays out. It's a sitcom in the most traditional sense in that the situation leads to the comedy. The characters are absolutely fantastic, but they don't have to be in these messes so fully. Sure, Matt makes his own trouble, but Bev and Sean rarely do, which makes the show a comedy of errors, flaps that keep interfering with the life they want to live.

It's kind of cool that this happens, though. I mean, it would take some contrivances to bring everyone back together for a fourth season, which has already been ordered, so by having Pucks arise from the grave, it keeps the characters together, something that would have been a stretch to believe otherwise. While it does happen with an unexpected twist, it makes sense in the world of the show, so doesn't feel too false. They are also all extremely reluctant to return, which means we'll get to see a new side of them in making the show, and Pucks could potentially turn into something good when its creators stop caring. So bad it's good, perhaps?

I'm not sure if this season finale was designed to be a series finale or not, but it very well could have had Pucks not been picked up. Sean and Beverly suddenly become the most sought-after writers in Hollywood when Eileen Jaffee (Andrea Rosen) puts a script they wrote out into the world and a bidding war erupts between FOX, CBS, and Carol (Kathleen Rose Perkins), who needs the new program to save her job. While Sean is tempted to take the bait, Beverly firmly resists, and in the end, he agrees. They leave on top, with Matt coming only to say goodbye to his friends, unlike everyone else who wants something from them. It's sweet and it's satisfying and it's triumphant.

If Pucks didn't get renewed, it's hard to imagine what would draw the Lincolns back to California. Matt is on another show. Carol may very well be out of work after losing them, or if she's not, she's running a last place network. Merc (John Pankow) is still out on the street, pretending to be friendly to all the people he hates. How could this group come back together?

With Sean wanting to stay and do the new show, though, it almost looks like it will go that way for a moment. The Hollywood types promise Beverly she can do everything her way and they'll land her a big star. It's easy to see how this tempts Sean, a chance to do things on their own terms, a do-over. But Bev is probably right, any other project would get ruined like Pucks did, so the happy ending snatched away from the couple here is most likely the one they will be trying to get back to in subsequent seasons, rather than a successful career in La La Land.

Episodes is clever, with plenty of great one-liners and cartoonish characters in a hyper-realized setting, that actually seems sort of real. Everyone on the show is so damn entertaining, and the stories are well thought out. I very eagerly anticipate another round with these folks.

Episodes will return to Showtime next year.

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