I am a movie guy; that statement is as self-evident at this point as it is completely nebulous. In this case, what it means is that my time is so consumed with everything film that I rarely get the opportunity to watch any television. But this week, I’ve decided to shift the usual focus of MIA and shine the searchlight on a former T.V. personality of whom we seem to have lost sight. Today, we wonder: where in the world is Matt Leblanc?
Why We Love Him
Matt Leblanc owes the entirety of his fame to the television series Friends, which ran from 1994-2004 and was a mammoth success. Leblanc played Joey, the lovable nitwit and struggling actor. Joey may have been a bit dim, but he was fiercely loyal and irresistibly charming. He proved to be the ideal roommate/counterbalance for Matthew Perry’s witty, terribly neurotic Chandler; the interplay between the two providing the largest laughs for the first five seasons. Friends happens to be my favorite television show, it is among the best ensemble comedies ever conceived. Each of the lead performers brought something unique and distinctively entertaining to the equation. Matt Leblanc was able to make Joey such an uncomplicated, fun-loving every-guy that many of us instantly identified with him, as we had known someone exactly like him. As I was in college when I got into Friends, I always wished Joey had been one of the guys in my dorm.
What Happened to Him?
Matt Leblanc’s career turned out to be far more beholden to Friends than anyone could have imagined. During the course of the show, many of its cast members spread their wings and ventured out into the medium of film with varying results. But none seemed to suffer the wholesale silver screen rejection as Leblanc did. It all started with his monumentally poor career choice to co-star with a baseball-playing simian in Ed; which shockingly is even worse than it sounds. A rebound seemed assured by his signing on to the big screen adaptation of Lost in Space, but that turned out to be a stellar flop as well.
When Friends eventually ended, the future seemed entirely uncertain for Matt Leblanc, many of his co-stars already having established themselves in other venues. It was then that Leblanc made the only choice that appeared available to him: a Friends spinoff called Joey. It stood to reason that, with the public still clamoring for more of their favorite comedy series, Joey would be a smash. But after just two seasons, the show was soundly cancelled. Once again, Leblanc was out in the cold.
Where He’s Been
After the cancellation of Joey in 2006, Matt Leblanc appeared to have fallen completely off the face of the Earth. His track record of cinematic missteps made Hollywood leery of taking another chance on him while Joey’s failure suggested that he might have worn out his welcome on the small screen as well. Just this year, Leblanc attempted a comeback with a BBC series entitled Episodes. The show seems to have stalled after only seven episodes but it’s unclear whether it’s actually been cancelled or not. The reviews have not been kind so it would not surprise me if a second season, even one as short, were not in the works.
I do not believe, as some do, that Leblanc is a bad actor. On Friends, one of the basic elements of the character of Joey was that he actually was a bad actor. But in reality, it takes a great deal of legitimate talent for an actor to play one of little to no talent. You have to understand all the basics of acting technique in order to communicate such comical ineptitude with each and every one of them. But I feel what the failure of Joey has made crystal clear is that Leblanc works best as a member of a supremely talented ensemble more than he does a leading man. Given the right project, with the right assortment of skilled collaborators, I feel Leblanc could easily make a comeback and hopefully, the audience will be there for him once again.
Showtime is bring back its freshman winter shows, having just renewed Episodes and Shameless for second seasons. Shameless stars William H. Macy and features Emmy Rossum naked. Like, a lot (this is a good thing). Episodes stars Matt LeBlanc as Matt LeBlanc, which is a romanticized version of Matt LeBlanc with some grey hair. Yeah, it's even more confusing to watch (but that’s mostly because of the British accents).
What are the implications here? Well for one, Showtime is seriously building its brand. Not only does the channel now have a solid winter’s worth of program, it can boast solid programming throughout the year with Dexter, Weeds, Nurse Jackie and The Big C, rounding out its content block. Of course, it hasn't reached HBO's level of quality (yet) but is on the way.