REVIEW: ‘Episodes’ Series Premiere

REVIEW: ‘Episodes’ Series Premiere

Star Rating: 4 out of 5

Stars: Matt LeBlanc, Tamsin Grieg, Stephen Mangan, John Pankow, Kathleen Rose Perkins and Mircea Monroe

The Big Idea: Beverly (Grieg) and Sean (Mangan) Lincoln are British TV producers with an award-winning series on their hands. That has a Hollywood TV exec, Merc Lapidus (Pankow), sniffing around them, with promises of fame and fortune if they’ll move to Los Angeles to launch a U.S. version of their series, Lyman’s Boys, about a British boarding school and its proper headmaster (guest star Richard “Uncle Vernon Dursley” Griffiths). The big detail the slippery Merc neglects to mention to Bev and Sean: He wants Friends star Matt LeBlanc to be the lead in the show … yes, Joey Tribbiani as the headmaster of a stuffy boarding school.

To Watch or Not to Watch: Absolutely. Not only is Episodes the best non-Dexter and Weeds excuse for signing up for Showtime, it’s easily LeBlanc’s best non-Friends work ever. Though much of the premise revolves around how miscast “Joey from Friends” is in the British series remake — and LeBlanc is a good sport to agree to be the butt of jokes about the real and pseudo-real versions of his career and his personal life — LeBlanc also gives as good as he gets, playing a version of himself that is anxious for a TV comeback and very savvy about how to play the Hollywood game, but also weary of the fact that everyone, from fans to industry players, continues to see him as Joey.

There’s also a bit of drama thrown into the mix — too good to spoil, though I’ll tease that TV-LeBlanc’s reputation as a ladies man plays out into a major romantic entanglement and a big cliffhanger that ends the show’s seven-episode first season — and some delicious, right-on-the-money jabs at the more ridiculous aspects of how TV execs sometimes operate.

And, though Episodes most definitely showcases LeBlanc, British TV and movie stars Grieg and Mangan are both funny and charming (particularly Mangan, as his Sean begins a bromance with LeBlanc); Pankow, probably best remembered as Paul Reiser’s cousin on Mad About You, is a scene stealer as the fickle, glad-handing Merc; and Perkins is a delightfully stressed mess as Carol, Herc’s second in command at the network, and the one who has to clean up after his shenanigans. Like the fact that, though he’s professed to love Bev and Sean’s show, Merc has never actually seen it. “He’s not a big TV watcher,” Carol explains, with a straight face.

TV Screener Tidbit: Though LeBlanc continues to be very vocal about his opinion that a Friends reunion should be a no-go, he’s very free with the Friends/Joey Tribbiani/”How you doin’?” jokes in Episodes. One of the best: In episodes six and seven, a pivotal plot point involves a Joey cologne that was (in TV version of LeBlancland) released during Friends‘ run. The cologne’s tagline: “How you smellin’?”

Episodes premieres Sunday, January 9, at 9:30PM ET on Showtime

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