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Episodes (BBC2) - First episode reviewed

Episodes

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 2 out of 5

HIGH hopes abound for BBC’s new ‘metacomedy’ Episodes given its top drawer cast and impressive writing credentials. But on the evidence of Monday night’s first episode (January 10, 2011) it still has some work to do.

Written by David Crane (co-creator of Friends) and Jeffrey Klarik (Mad About You) this new series follows two successful British TV producers Bev and Sean (Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan) as they are lured to America to recreate their UK success for American audiences.

Episode one saw them making the switch from UK to US, settling into their lavish new home and finding out that not everything States-side is as they were promised.

For starters, first choice leading man (played by Richard Griffiths) was deemed surplus to requirements despite being forced to jet out to audition for a role he had already made his own in the UK.

But while certainly displaying the potential for much mirth and quick witted banter, the opening half an hour felt a little forced and laboured. What’s more, it was curiously light on another of its main selling points: a certain Matt LeBlanc.

For arguably the biggest hook for this show is being given the chance to see former Friends star LeBlanc playing a version of himself… a struggling actor lured back to TV in a US reboot of a popular UK hit.

Thus far, though, LeBlanc’s screen-time has been limited to a car crash that happens seven weeks into the future, while his name has only just emerged as the front-runner to replace Griffiths’ character.

It also meant that the opening episode took 30 minutes to get to the actual point we’d all tuned in for and felt like something of a tease. And an intermittently funny one at that.

Mangan and Greig, for their part, worked overtime to generate some chuckles, but feel reigned in by their charismatic standards – forced to bicker or look impressed or aghast whenever situations dictated.

Incredibly, there were no lines to savour from either of them, while support from the American contingent felt stage managed and stilted.

Not everything is lost, though, given that one of its biggest assets has yet to fully reveal himself, and that first episodes are sometimes notoriously difficult to judge. But the omens aren’t good, while comparisons with better ‘metacomedies’ feel obvious and unflattering.

Thus far, Episodes exists in the shadow of those it is seeking to emulate, from the awkward situation comedy of Ricky Gervais (The Office and Extras) to the biting satire of Curb Your Enthusiasm or the bawdy comedy and spot-on industry insights of Entourage. Or even, for that matter, the free-flowing delivery and laugh out loud witticisms of Friends.

We could even go further and say that Episodes owes more in common to that show’s spin-off (Joey), which leaves LeBlanc with an awful lot on his plate to try and save the day. Fingers crossed…

Episodes airs on BBC2 on Monday nights from 10pm.