Episodes is a Showtime original television series about the TV industry in L.A. starring Stephen Mangan, Tamsin Greig, and Matt LeBlanc.
Showtime is an American network, so it shouldn’t be too tricky. The DVD set is region one NTSC. One episode is available from Show.com for free. Season 2 is on Google Play for $17.49. You can get it from Amazon Instant Video for $19.99 (s1) and $16.99 (s2). iTunes has season 2 for $25.99, plus free video podcast interviews. Seasons 1-3 are available on Vudu for $10-15.
The brilliant titles of Showtime’s Episodes features an animated TV script blowing out a window in England, flapping like a bird beautifully across the world, reaching California, where it’s blown away by a shot gun and lands dead in an L.A. pool. What a perfect metaphor for the process of remaking a British TV show for America. This is the general premise of Episodes. Sean and Beverly are a married couple and award winning writing partners on a great British TV show, which gets remade by an American network that changes a comedy about a schoolmaster to a comedy about a hockey coach, retitled Pucks.
It’s funny watching Episodes right after reading the history of The Sketch Show, which shared a very similar fate (as I imagine many shows do). The Sketch Show (produced by Steve Coogan’s production company in 2001) went for two years, won a BAFTA, and then was cancelled after season 2. Without knowing it was cancelled or having even seen it, America picked it up for a remake starring Kelsey Grammer based solely on the fact that it won a BAFTA. Grammer’s version was cancelled after just a few episodes. Similarly, Episodes begins at an award show where Beverly and Sean have just won and are approached by a hot shot L.A. producer who wants to remake the show for his American network. Later it becomes apparent that he’s never seen the show and just wants to do it because it won an award. Like The Sketch Show, who hired one of the original cast members, Lee Mack, to be in the remake, the show-within-a-show Pucks hires the same writers and attempts to hire the same star, Richard Griffiths, before eventually deciding on Matt LeBlanc (who plays himself in Episodes) instead.
Episodes is a comedy. It’s funny where it should be funny. But it’s also shockingly dark. You assume that this happy, successful married couple will move to L.A. and begin to be corrupted, but you hope in a funny sort of way. Episodes goes way darker than you expect. There’s an entire episode around LeBlanc’s failed relationship with his family, banging on his ex’s door drunk in the middle of the night because he just lost the custody case for his kids. Then you get Sean and Bev betraying each other in such a way, you don’t know how they’ll ever bounce back, and you want them to; the fact that you want them to proves they’ve created characters we care about. The peripheral characters are shallow cartoonish L.A. stereotypes, but you do care about the Brits, and even to some extent Matt, even if he does keep screwing everything up for them.
I’ve always enjoyed the work of Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig, and their embodiment of these characters, the Lincolns, is so complete that the sticky Caroline/Guy relationship of Green Wing never once crosses your mind.
In season 2, I look forward to seeing if Sean and Bev can patch up their marriage and what other insider scandals of the great American remake Episodes can reveal.