'Episodes' Series Premiere Recap
by Joel Keller, posted Jan 9th 2011 11:00PM
['Episodes' - Season 1, Episode 1]
For those of us in the TV-criticism community who are too cheap to spring for premium cable channels, Showtime has been kind enough to send entire chunks of their shows to us in advance. In the case of 'Episodes,' they sent us the entire 7-episode first season in advance a couple of months ago.
Of course, that makes approaching individual episodes difficult, because we've been privy to what goes on for the entire season.
So you have to go on what you felt as you watched a particular episode the first time. As fellow Squadder Mo Ryan mentioned in her review, 'Episodes' starts out slowly, opening with a broad episode that tells you pretty much what you knew about the entertainment business in general, and network television in particular: Anything that's good has the potential to be chipped away by meddling network executives until a mediocre product remains. And the chance of that happening increases exponentially if the original happens to be a beloved British series.
Like most recent Showtime series, 'Episodes' starts out with an eventful scene between the main characters, then flashes back to the events that started the ball rolling towards that event. In this case, it was Beverly Lincoln storming out of the rented LA house, accusing her husband Sean of cheating. Because she's not used to driving on the right, she runs her car smack into Matt LeBlanc's.
I know the purpose of these introductory scenes is to pique the viewer's interest so he sticks around until the episode where the scene reoccurs in the natural storytelling order. But in this case, that scene didn't leave me curious at all. Maybe it's because I knew too much about what the show was about, but wouldn't it have been better just to pick up the show from when network exec Merc Lapidus encounters the Lincolns after they won their BAFTA for 'Lyman's Boys'? The episode can build from that point: he says he loves the show, makes fun of their accents, says he is not only a recovering alcoholic but a cancer survior, and offers them a free ride to Hollywood.
Now we know that in the span of seven weeks, the show will be a disaster and the Lincolns' marriage will be in trouble. But it didn't seem like we really needed that to figure that out. From the jump, the Lincolns are finding out that to work in Hollywood, you need to defend your dignity as pieces of it continue to get torn away. The executive who said he loved your show may not have actually seen it. They want to replace the distinguished gentleman who gave a subtle but funny performance on your original show with the guy who played Joey on 'Friends.' It's nothing that a fan of television hasn't seen or read about dozens of times.
And that's the big problem with this first episode. This is what we've seen so far: Sean wants to be in LA much more than Beverly, making her out to be more than a little shrewish. Merc is a typical "idiot executive," who rejects Julian Bullard, the star of the British version for being "too butlery." There are a bunch of feckless yes men network executives led by the ever-smiling Carol Rance; one of the execs doesn't even have the capacity to smile, even when she says things are funny. And all we've seen of Matt LeBlanc is him being a teeny bit of a jerk in that first scene.
There's just not a lot there for an opening episode, and it's moving much too slowly for a season that's only seven episodes to begin with.
Were there funny moments? Sure: Sean constantly running into fake columns in their rental house, props left by a reality show that rented the house before them; Bullard hoping there's a bar in the hotel when he flops in his audition after the execs want him to read in an American accent; the guard at the gate of the Lincoln's housing development having no idea who they are.
All of the actors, from Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan as the Lincolns, John Pankow as Merc, Kathleen Rose Perkins as Carol, and especially Richard Griffiths as Julian, all do a good job with the material they're given.
But the big take-away from this first episode is that these are people who you're not sure you want to spend any more time with. Luckily, things get better later on, so all I can do is tell anyone who's looking to bail at this point to be patient. You'll be rewarded eventually.
'Episodes' airs Sundays at 9:30PM ET on Showtime.
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