Episodes

Let’s face it. America has buggered up more adaptations of British telly than it has ever gotten right.

For every Blackpool there is a Viva Laughlin! For every Fawlty Towers there is an Amanda’s. And for every Coupling, Life on Mars, Prime Suspect and Skins there is a Coupling, Life on Mars, Prime Suspect and Skins. Boy they’re not very good at this thing, are they?

Eighteen months ago, America decided to see the lighter side of things with an American comedy about ruining British comedies, in the form of Episodes.

Created by David Crane (Friends) and Jeffrey Klarik (Mad About You) for the Showtime network, this begins in the UK with writers Beverly and Sean Lincoln (Tamsin Greig, Stephen Mangan) winning a BAFTA for their fictional comedy Lyman’s Boys -best described as a kind of History Boys for the small screen.

US TV exec Merc Lapidus (John Pankow) lures them to Hollywood with the promise of money and fame, but from there they are subjected to the inanity of the American network system that tries to re-mould their round peg into their square hole. The ageing star Julian Bullard (Richard Griffiths) is asked to re-audition for his role but Lapidus decides he is “too British.”

When Matt LeBlanc (played by Matt LeBlanc) becomes available, Beverly and Sean battle to hold on to their project and their sanity.

There is much to like here. The premise is so self-referential that it’s hard to conceive Americans can grasp the lost-in-translation irony. Maybe we can thank Ricky Gervais for bringing it to them.

Matt LeBlanc plays a shallow, conceited version of himself brilliantly. His character is more interested in money than art and looking to rebound from the failure that was Joey. He tells Beverly he’s desperate for the show to be hilarious or at least deliver him enough anecdotes for his next talk show appearance.

Supporting characters offer terrific foils to the comedy, including the network execs. With next to no dialogue, Daisy Haggard as a lemon-faced Head of Comedy is absolutely priceless. There’s also a funny running gag featuring Lou Hirsch as the security guard of a gated community.

But while it’s tempting to be distracted by LeBlanc, it’s actually the duo of Greig and Mangan that are the heart of Episodes. As an audience we feel sympathetic to the struggles of the British writers, watching as they squirm and try to compromise on their vision. There are laugh out loud moments here, with clever writing and restrained performances.

As a comedy that gleefully takes us inside the television industry it becomes doubly enthralling. It’s the sharpest satire on the industry since 30 Rock and the grossly-underrated Grosse Pointe.

But there is a downside to the treatment of Episodes in Australia. The first is that Nine has waited 18 months to screen the show, despite promising in 2010 it would be fast-tracked. The second point is that Nine is editing Episodes, from its 30 minutes of US cable content to 30 minutes of commercial television with ads. Screening two episodes back to back will see too many scenes edited onto the cutting room floor. It takes an American network to realise it is strangling the art of British comedy, but it takes an Australian network to bastardise it via Programming.

Lastly, for the record, America has definitely made some very successful adaptations from the UK: The Office, Queer as Folk, Steptoe and Son, Til Death Us Do Part, Man About the House, Pop Idol, Strictly Come Dancing and several game shows.

Episodes airs 9:30pm Tuesdays on Nine
*from July 10 in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.

22 Comments:

  1. …and the first two episodes are now repeating on GO starting next Thu (19th), at least in sydney. Any idea whether these are uncut, or if they’re repeating Just Because?

  2. So we Melbournians have to wait another week to see the show, due to some stupid ‘football of the ancients’ being played here that night. Typical, footy rules in this state.

    I love Steve Mangan and Tamsin Greig – did anyone see them in The Green Wing on ABC2 some months back? The show was fairly old, but fabulous. So looking forward to Episodes – what I’ve seen of Matt Le Blanc in recent times, he seems to have a quirky sense of humour, specially about himself.

  3. I sat through this. The ad breaks were long enough to turn over to the Wimbledon coverage and watch whole sets (well, games at least). I fear that this will get the same treatment as Top Gear and I’ll resort to other means to watching what looks like a great show.

  4. Trust Nine to sit on the best show they’ve had in years! Of course, why not bump a show this good for endless runs of crappy reality shows and wall to wall repeats of Big Bang Theory? Nine could have a duck that pooped gold and they’d cook it for dinner!

    I just watched the first two Episodes and I’m hooked – Stephen Mangan (another series of Dirk Gently please!) and Tamsin Greig are wonderful, Matt LeBlanc is excellent as are John Pankow and the rest of the US cast.

  5. A friend of mine had a copy of this show and i loved it! If you like friends youll like matt le blanc. looking forward to watching the series actually – i giggled my head off!

    Thumbs up form me.

  6. wait, so they are editing eps now? like how much? it hasn’t aired yet so maybe there will be less ads or something? Showtime comedies aren’t always 30 minutes with no ads, I’ve seen some that go less than 25 mins like any normal network show… don’t assume anything.

  7. We went through this whole mess of cutting episodes with “Come Fly With Me”. Didn’t they learn from viewer complaints last time? Any chance they will run “Episodes” on Go! uncut?

  8. It never ceases to amaze me the disdain with which all commercial networks treat the viewing public. What a disgrace that they couldn’t just run the full episodes at that time of night. Do they thinkk we would all get too confused if an episode started at 10.15pm? Hang on, what am I talking about….given how late the networks always run, scheduled 10.15 would probably really be 10.30 anyway. Pathetic.

  9. Amazing that Channel 9 can make A Current Affair run for 35 minutes, and a one-hour episode of The Block run for 80 minutes, but when it comes to a show starting at 9.30pm (which will probably translate to 9.40 anyway) they’ll edit down the show to stick to a strict 30-minute timeframe?

  10. After reading the last two paragraphs I’m glad I watched season 1 of this via other means in the past week knowing that I couldn’t trust ch 9 to play it. Still the series picks up as it go along as the first ep is slow but sets things up with the storyline. But great to see Matt Le Blanc have a multi dimesional character in this series,as he said in Golden Globe speech thanking the writers for making the character of Matt Le Blanc more interesting than the real one.

  11. Good show.

    Frankly though these shows never work on commercial network.

    Remember the reaction to when Nine put the Seinfeld season of Curb Your Enthusiasm on. People couldn’t handle it.

  12. I just don’t get this show. After tolerating the excruciatingly boring first episode, I couldn’t bare to watch another one. I am thinking of check out episode two, but after the commercials I have seen, it doesn’t look like I am missing anything.

    I am in the same boat with 30 Rock, Parks, The Office, Community, they are all terribly unfunny and poorly/over acted.
    Grosse Pointe on the other hand has great writing, comedy and timing. Very under rated and should have gone on much longer.

    Also, Channel Nine/GO! have been playing the wrong commercials in Adelaide. Yesterday it was saying Tuesday week, and then the next ad would say this Tuesday, as in today.

  13. Secret Squirrel

    Great review, boo hiss NIne – what everybody else said. Perhaps they should retitle it as “Episod” since around 25% of it will be cut.

  14. One of the best comedies on tv. Not sure if Nine viewers will get it though cos there’s no laugh track.
    And agree about Daisy Haggard. she is bloody hilarious and steals the scene everytime she’s in it.

    What you have mentioned is exactly why i’m not watching it on Nine. 18 months late, the 2nd season finale airs July 6, Nine is starting season 1 on July 10. Even worse they are cutting about 10 minutes from each episode.

  15. jezza the first original one

    The sting in the tail towards the end of this review truly sums up the tossers programming our fta networks.
    Superb review David….superb

  16. Seriously Nine, I’m not watching an edited copy of this show, I’d rather buy the DVD!

    9:30 at night why not show the full 30 mins (of each) and let it run until 11pm?

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