Episodes is an unusual show. Not unusual in a bad way necessarily, but unusual in a good way.
It’s unusual because it reminds me of so many other shows out there, which is of course an oxymoronic statement if there ever was one. But don’t get me wrong, you should be watching this show. It’s delightfully funny and one of the better TV shows about TV out there (definitely the best since 30 Rock).
The show is about a British couple (Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig) who created a critically adored television show in the UK. After another round of cleaning up at the BAFTAs they are approached by an American studio to bring the show across the pond. Fearing their little baby of a show would be Americanized and ruined, they take the offer hesitantly. They’re charted off to LA where their routinely put up in a mansion and carted off to meetings. Things get especially crazy when they’re forced to replace their main star of the show with Matt LeBlanc. Not Matt LeBlanc the actor playing a character, but Matt LeBlanc playing himself.
And that’s where the fun starts.
The show exists in an unusual world. Matt LeBlanc plays himself, former star of Friends who hasn’t had a big hit TV show in a while but he’s also playing Matt LeBlanc the dumb actor who is more like Joey than he would care to admit. It exists in the world of television but very rarely does it acknowledge other television shows, LeBlanc is our only connection to the “real” world of television.
But the show goes further than that. There are so many influences running through the show. The Office is a terrific starting point because the show undoubtedly was influenced by it, both in content and creation. Ricky Gervais must have felt some of the worry that the characters of this show felt when his show was brought over but he took all of his frustrations with the television industry out with Extras. And the show borrows heavily from Extras, and 30 Rock for that matter. In fact, let me just get all of the comparisons out of the way:
It’s like 30 Rock meets Extras. It’s a British version of Entourage, just minus all the doucheyness of Entourage. It’s funnier than other Showtime comedies like Weeds, but it can still reach an emotional depth on par with Weeds. It has the delightful meta-awareness similiar to Community, but only because the characters themselves work for television. Episodes can’t exactly be penned down easily because its an American show that is a British view of American culture. Or it could be an American view on British television. Or a British television show about the American view on British television. It's really a headache once you think about it.
But the biggest comparison belongs to Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Episodes is like Studio 60, but only if it were intended to be a comedy and actually written by comedians, not Aaron Sorkin. And the fact that they both star former Friends stars doesn’t hurt the comparison either.
Episodes is very funny with a hefty chunk of drama and heart thrown in, not to mention it has one of the most beautifully symbolic opening credits on television. Like all great British television, its painfully short (the season is only seven episodes long) but they go through a lot during its short run. Like most shows, the pilot is its weakest episode, but please trust me. The show gets way better as it goes along. It looks like Showtime finally found an actual comedy that’s funny.
Episodes premiers Sunday January 9th at 9:30 on Showtime.