Tuned In: Showtime's 'Episodes' is a comedy gem
As British television writers, Stephen Mangan, left, and Tamsin Greig offer an outsider's perspective of Hollywood in the Showtime comedy "Episodes."
Former "Friends" star Matt LeBlanc portrays a fictionalized version of himself on "Episodes."
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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- If you haven't watched Showtime's "Episodes," you're missing out.
The comedy series ends its second season Sunday at 10:30 p.m., and the show continues to face the problem of so many TV series set behind the scenes in the world of entertainment. It's not a workplace many viewers are interested in, which seems weird considering America's obsession with celebrity.
Matt LeBlanc stars as a fictional version of himself. He's cast in an American remake of a British show that gets mutated into "Pucks." Mr. LeBlanc plays hockey coach to a team of high school boys. The British writers of "Pucks," the husband and wife team of Sean (Stephen Mangan) and Beverly (Tamsin Greig), are fish out of water in Hollywood.
"Anybody at this party likes this show because it's about us," Mr. LeBlanc said at a Television Critics Association event last month. "The hard part of our show is to make it relatable to the greater community. That said, using Sean and Beverly as newcomers to Hollywood enables the show to state the obvious. ... Their characters become [the audience's] conduit into the show."
Although "Episodes" is not highly rated, Showtime exec David Nevins said it's likely to be back for a third season.
What's been most gratifying in season two of "Episodes" is to see how writers David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik developed the secondary characters, particularly what's going on at the end of the season with network executive Carol (Kathleen Rose Perkins). She's been sleeping with her boss, Merc (John Pankow), but he's about to get fired, and it looks like she may be tapped to take his place.
"If we ever kept going with this character, she's such a mess in her personal life that I think they would keep her in really dysfunctional relationships," Ms. Perkins said. "It's so fun to watch somebody be pathetic and just a little off and choosing the wrong thing and making the same mistakes over and over again. I don't think she is going to clean up her act and learn from anything. Who does that and who wants to watch it?"
A favorite Hollywood parlor game is guessing whom some of the "Episodes" characters are based on. There's a general consensus that Merc's penchant for giving hugs is based on Warner Bros. Television president Peter Roth (I'm pretty sure I was the recipient of at least two hugs during the most recent press tour). And the humorless comedy executive played magnificently by Daisy Haggard in scrunched-up-face glory is supposedly based on a similarly humorless comedy executive at one of the broadcast networks.
Although it's set in Hollywood, "Episodes" is a British co-production, so most of each season is filmed in London with just a week's worth of filming in Southern California for exterior shots during the current season. This is why Beverly and Carol seem to be hiking up the same mountain path in multiple episodes -- because they are.
"We shot one day for all those scenes," Ms. Perkins said. "It was my absolute favorite day of shooting because it's with Tamsin Greig, the best actress I've ever had the privilege of working with. And I love to hike and I love to be outdoors and I love not being in high heel shoes. This character is always in high heels, even during sex."
Mr. LeBlanc found his own conversations inserted into scripts this season. Turns out he's contributing to the resurgence of bigfoot in popular culture. (Bigfoot has his own series in Animal Planet's "Finding Bigfoot" and a character on "The Newsroom' went on and on about bigfoot in an episode earlier in the season.)
"I was standing on set with Stephen Mangan and David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik and talking about bigfoot and how I -- I wasn't defending bigfoot because I don't know that I believe in bigfoot, but I love the idea that there's some big undiscovered animal running around in the forest," he said. "I think that's somehow romantic. And they put it in the script."
Mr. LeBlanc sports gray hair in "Episodes," something he said is increasingly difficult as today's youth watch "Friends" reruns.
"There's a new generation discovering 'Friends' right now and to be walking around as Joey with gray hair is really hard on the ego," he said. And though he may get tired of people quoting Joey back to him, he never tired of playing Joey on "Friends." "I never made a move to separate from 'Friends.' I thought it was the best time ever. If people always think of me as Joey, it means I did my job. If the guy on 'Episodes' is what people think I'm really like, then I've done my job. An actor's job is to make you believe."
"The Office" executive producer Greg Daniels announced this week that the upcoming ninth season of the NBC comedy will be its last. Mr. Daniels promised to reveal the documentary crew that's been filming the show and bring closure to the characters, with the possible exception of Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson), for whom NBC is developing a spinoff series, "The Farm."
"Ultimately this sort of feeling of family and wanting to wrap up these arcs and do justice to the existing characters in the most creative and explosive way kind of means that the show will be changed to such a degree that if anything was to continue it really wouldn't be the same show," Mr. Daniels said in a conference call with reporters. "It was a hard choice, but I think this is going to be a real gangbuster season. Hopefully people will think it was worth it."
Mr. Daniels said it's possible that original "Office" star Steve Carell could return for the series finale.
"We would certainly wish for it," Mr. Daniels said. "We are not going to put so much pressure on Steve by writing something that can only work if he returns. ... He really loved how he was exited and is probably anxious about not messing up such a stylish exit. So that is a perfectly legitimate point."
Read more about the end of "The Office" on Monday in Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv.
"Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood," the new animated PBS series from The Fred Rogers Company ("Mister Rogers' Neighborhood") based in Oakland, debuts Sept. 3, but visitors to the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh can get a sneak peek Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
WQED members receive $3 off admission to the museum on Saturday.
TNT renewed "Perception" for a second season.
AMC has renewed its advertising-themed reality series "The Pitch" for a second season to air in 2013.
Sundance Channel has renewed "Push Girls" for a second season to air in 2013, VH1 renewed "Single Ladies" for a third season, and Spike TV renewed "Bar Rescue" for a third season this week.
ABC Family canceled "Jane by Design" but ordered a third season of "Melissa & Joey" and second seasons of "Baby Daddy" and "Switched at Birth." ABC Family also ordered additional episodes of "Bunheads" but a network rep refused to say how many (it's probably around eight more episodes).
New episodes of "Doctor Who" begin airing at 9 p.m. Sept. 1 on BBC America. ... "LIVE With Kelly" will get an official, as-permanent-as-it-gets co-host in the show's Sept. 4 season premiere. Reports say it will be former NFL star Michael Strahan, who tried out for the show earlier this year. ... "Saturday Night Live" will have its season premiere on Sept. 15. ... Michael J. Fox will return to prime time next fall in a sitcom for NBC where he'll play a husband and father of three who has Parkinson's disease, just as the actor has in real life. ... "The Fabulous Beekman Boys," last seen on Planet Green, moves to Cooking Channel next month (10 p.m. Sept. 20), and the show's stars will compete on CBS's "The Amazing Race" this fall, according to RealityBlurred.com. ... Comcast has added Fox Soccer HD (Channel 920) and Gol TV HD (Channel 919) in traditional Comcast systems and PAC-12 Network (Channel 279) on traditional Comcast and former Adelphia systems. ... WQED's The Create Channel (13.2) is airing "Pedal America," a travel show about cycling that features Pittsburgh native Kati Lightholder, at 9:30 a.m. Sunday and 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.
This week's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "Army Wives" and "Final Witness." This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on "Episodes," "Face Off," "All the Right Moves" and "Sullivan & Son" star Steve Byrne's visit to Pittsburgh this weekend. Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.
This week's podcast includes conversation about "Copper," "Falling Skies" and "Project Runway." Subscribe or listen at http://old.post-gazette.com/podcast.
First Published August 24, 2012 12:00 am