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'Episodes' Season Premiere: Full of Hot Air?

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Jul 02, 2012 | 5:32am EDT

Episodes Season 2 ShowtimeEpisodes seems to have a bit of a problem figuring out what it wants to be. On the one hand, it’s a show about the denigration of comedy when it takes the journey from UK networks to American networks. However, the show isn’t too big a jaunt from your standard American comedy as-is.

That’s not to say the series isn't enjoyable. The Season 2 premiere of Episodes, which aired on Showtime last night, does have its way of hooking you. This falls primarily in the hands of Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig, who play a pair of co-showrunners and a married couple that is, at this point in the story, facing some serious troubles.

At the end of Episodes’ first season, Greig’s character Beverly has a regretful affair with thick-headed Matt LeBlanc (who plays a fictionalized version of himself), an act that effectively destroys her marriage to Sean (Mangan). That's where Season 2 picks up. The two maintain a civil professional relationship behind the scenes of their soon-to-air television pilot, but have separated romantically. Sean can't forgive either Beverly or LeBlanc, but she is hell bent on restoring her marriage.

Mangan and Grieg, both veterans of the spectacularly weird British comedy Green Wing, handle the comedy and drama with dexterity. LeBlanc, who is dimmer than Friends' Joey and far more a gutless jackass, also sells his material effectively. The problem is, performances notwithstanding, Episodes is primarily empty space.

But that isn’t necessarily a terrible thing. With the reputations of Showtime and HBO series to be dense beyond casual approachability, it’s actually refreshing to be able to wane in and out of a Showtime comedy, catching a few fun jokes here and there, and watching a lovable Friend play the dirt bag. Episodes is easier, simpler than some of its peers. So if you’re looking for something simple, there might well be an attraction to these characters and their plight to make good television.

As the episode progresses, it turns out that the abysmal American adaptation of the Lincolns’ UK series is a huge hit among viewing audiences, albeit a critical nightmare. Fans also explore the depths of the extramarital affairs of the Lapiduses (Lapidi?) — husband Merc (John Pankow) enjoys a longstanding affair with Bev’s pal (?), and wife Jamie (Genevieve O’Reilly) opens the door on a tryst with a childishly excited LeBlanc.

The pull of this season seems to be the escalating problems facing Sean and Beverly. While Bev is fighting to rekindle, Sean is beginning to explore romance elsewhere. Will they get back together? Will they find love elsewhere? It’s the stuff of standard television.

So is Episodes a cute, enjoyable half-hour of traditional TV? Or is it, as its plot and network would suggest, something important and sophisticated? Therein lies the identity crises. It doesn’t really know which it wants to be, and in that, it suffers some. But with the performances in tact and the pop culture factor, there’s one thing for sure: it’s definitely not a horrible watch either way.

[Image: Showtime]

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