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Episodes: The Complete Second Season
Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 1/8/2013
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/1/2012
With the recent success of shows like Downton Abbey (which I watched over Christmas break and I must admit, is pretty good) and the resurgence of Doctor Who, more and more Americans are becoming familiar with British television and its particular quirks. They've learned that the seasons (which are called "series" in Britain) are typically shorter than American shows and that the focus is often more on solid writing and acting than on grandiose gestures and gimmicks. They may also notice that the production values can run from elaborate to quite shoddy. All of this makes me wonder why Episodes isn't a bigger hit. It combines the familiar trappings of an American sitcom, but combines it with a decidedly British style and attitude. The show got off to a nice start in Season 1 and Season 2 only improves upon that.
As a reminder, Episodes introduced us to Sean (Stephen Mangan) and Beverly Lincoln (Tamsin Greig), television writers who were a success and award winners in their native England. American TV executive Merc Lapidus (John Pankow) recruited the duo to come to the United States to reproduce their hit show Lyman's Boys. After some initial reluctance, the two agree and find themselves in the truly foreign land of Hollywood. This alien feeling turns into confusion when studio interference turns Lyman's Boys into a completely different show called "Pucks" which stars former Friends actor Matt LeBlanc (playing an exaggerated version of himself). As Sean and Beverly wrestle with attempting to maintain creative control of the show, LeBlanc becomes more and more intertwined in their lives to the point that he and Beverly become involved. Sean learns of this and is prepared to return to England when everyone learns that "Pucks" is going to be on TV.
Season 2 picks up right after the conclusion ofSeason 1. Now that "Pucks" has gone to series, Sean, Beverly, and LeBlanc must learn to work together. Sean and Beverly separate and move into different residences. Sean refuses to hang out with LeBlanc, despite his pleading. Meanwhile, the show hits some rough patches, and the ratings decline after the initial episode and the group must make adjustments. Carol (Kathleen Rose Perkins), Merk's right-hand woman, begins to grow frustrated with the fact that they've had a secret affair for five years which doesn't seem to be going anywhere. "Pucks" ageless female star, Morning Randolph (Mircea Monroe), keeps throwing herself at Sean. LeBlanc must deal with a long-time stalker. Meanwhile, Sean and Beverly keep growing together and then apart again, and we wonder if they will be able to reconcile.
Season 1 of Episodes was entertaining and funny, but it was also uneven as it attempted to mix different types of humor and had trouble blending the various storylines. Some of these problems still exist in Season 2, but the major problems have been ironed out, as the stories have continued to gel. The "fish out of water" tale with Sean and Beverly in the weird world of Hollywood in Season 1 was cute, but it also felt very familiar. Having them forced to work together despite their marital issues is far more interesting and brings a palpable amount of awkwardness to certain scenes. Having established that Matt LeBlanc was an egotistical ladies man in Season 1, Season 2 moves beyond that by having him show actual emotion when he's concerned about the fact that he hurt Sean and Beverly. The way in which he handles these feelings is inappropriate, but at least he's growing as a character. We also see LeBlanc involved in two relationships (I won't spoil anything here) which brings a new depth to the show. The only real misfire here it the relationship between Carol and Merc. I like each of these characters in their own right, but the "he's never going to leave his wife, is he?" storyline is old hat and it's difficult to root for adulterers.
While the stories have improved, there have been some changes in the humor as well. While Season 1 was never afraid to be vulgar or dark, it also anchored a lot of its humor in physical comedy or broad, crude humor. Season 2 shows of jokes which are more clever and lean more towards black comedy at times. And while series creators David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik are not British, some of the more offensive jokes here reminded me of something which one would find on a British comedy show. LeBlanc gets some of the best lines here, most of which grow out of the fact that he simply says whatever is on his mind, and Sean is never without a good quip.
As it is somewhat hidden away on Showtime, I'm not sure what kind of audience Episodes draws, but it definitely deserves attention. The show got some publicity when Matt LeBlanc won a Golden Globe for playing himself and he certainly does a good job with it. The version of LeBlanc portrayed here is not always a likable person, but he's funny and the episode in which he attempts to connect with his Friends castmates is hilarious. Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig continue to deliver performances which feel very organic. Of course, the cornerstone of Episodes is the way in which parodies life and work in Hollywood. The show brilliantly balances the relationships of the characters with the rollercoaster which is life on "Pucks". I hope that Episodes comes back for another season so that we can keep up with these characters.
Episodes questions the emotional equivalency of a Lexus on DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. (This is a two-DVD set which also includes Season 1. My assumption is that the goal was to give prospective new viewers the opportunity to catch up with the entire series.) The DVD contain all nine episodes of Season 2. The show has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer has been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no distracting grain or defects from the source materials. The colors look good, most notably reds, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The image is somewhat soft at times, but overall it is stable. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a sitcom, we don't get an overwhelming amount of dynamic effects here. The dialogue is always audible and the music sounds fine. Some crowd scenes offer noticeable stereo and surround effects.
The only extras on the Episodes: The Complete Second Season DVD are text biographies for the six main cast members and a PHOTO GALLERY of production stills.
Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.