TV review: Episodes, series 4, BBC Two
Reliable laughs and behind the scenes comedy from Matt LeBlanc, Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig
After Friends ended, everyone was banking on Matt LeBlanc being the big breakout sitcom star. Then Joey tanked. For the next five years, nothing – until BBC / Showtime co-production Episodes came along and his post-Friends failure became integral to the plot as he played an exaggerated, sleazier, fictional version of himself.
Taking its cue from Curb Your Enthusiasm, Fat Actress and The Comeback (starring fellow Friends alumni Lisa Kudrow) Episodes is a behind-the-scenes comedy about the TV industry as LeBlanc is hired to star in an American adaptation of a successful British show written by husband and wife team Sean and Beverley Lincoln (played by Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig respectively).
As we enter the fourth series, the disaster that was Pucks is grinding to a halt but they're all trapped repeating past failures due to contractual obligations. Matt's having money problems after his accountant dies but on the bright side the networks are fighting over the Lincoln's latest project.
Creators David Crane (who also co-created Friends) and Jeffrey Klarik mine their years in the industry, poking fun at the vacuous LA studios, useless assistants, back-stabbing network heads and obsequious producers.
LeBlanc is Episodes' key asset; he steals every scene, poking fun at his inflated public persona (he even picked up a Golden Globe for his role in 2012). Mangan plays Sean as a dopey puppy but Grieg's Beverly is too cynical and joyless (except for when she enters the Golden Globes 'Gifting Centre').
Apart from a few key scenes Episodes is actually filmed in the UK; that means it's heavily studio based which can make it feel flat, while a series of Brit comedy actors attempt American accents with varying degrees of success. Unlike the aforementioned Curb..., Fat Actress, etc, Episodes is rooted in the standard sitcom format despite its self-referential concept. Much like the preceding seasons Episodes remains funny enough to keep you coming back for more, but never meets its full potential considering the talented cast involved.
Episodes series 4 starts on BBC Two, Mon 11 May, 10pm.