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
Stars: 4.5 out of 5
Stars: Edie Falco, Merritt Wever, Eve Best, Paul Schulze, Peter Facinelli, Haaz Sleiman and Anna Deavere Smith
The Big Idea: Jackie Peyton (Falco) is an excellent New York City nurse, a nurse who truly cares about her patients and is willing to go the extra mile to help them when she can, or to exact a bit of karmic healing when she can’t. Jackie’s got her own issues, though, namely a secret life and, thanks to a bum back, a raging painkiller addiction.
To Watch or Not to Watch: The dark comedy is must-see-TV, in fact. Falco wisely held out for another quality series after her Emmy and Golden Globe-winning turn on The Sopranos, where her Carmela was always, at best, second banana to hubby Tony. Not so for Jackie, whose commitment to her patients makes her a fierce heroine, while her double life (the details of which are too good to spoil here) and her drug jones make her a flawed one.
Jackie is surrounded by an equally compelling round-up of co-workers, from her hospital BFFs, the flip Dr. O’Hara (Best) and sardonic fellow nurse Mo-Mo (Sleiman), to nervous hotshot doc Cooper (Facinelli), pharmacist Eddie (Schulze), ball-busting administrator Akalitus (Smith) and Zoey, the scene-stealing, overly eager nurse trainee who wears scrubs covered with bunnies, bakes muffins to try to win over the staff and immediately takes to Jackie as her healer role model.
TV Screener Tidbit: Showtime provided the first six episodes of the series for review, and that batch contains a number of clever twists that, again, are too delicious to spoil. Suffice it to say they involve a bloody ear, the hospital’s plumbing system, a house in the ‘burbs, an unrequited Sopranos love that becomes quite requited, and that, during a joint guest appearance by Swoosie Kurtz and Blythe Danner, we learn Heather isn’t the only one who had two mommies.
Nurse Jackie premieres Monday, June 8, at 10:30PM ET on Showtime.
All the tube news that’s fit to surf …
– Memorial Day weekend means TV marathons, and TVGuide.com has a round-up of ’em.
– Nurse Jackie, the quirky new nurse dramedy starring Edie “Carmela Soprano” Falco, debuts June 8 on Showtime, but you can watch the first episode now, free, at Sho.com. The password: “shifthappens.”
– Now that the networks have announced their schedules for next season, they have to deal with the dismal stats of the just-concluded 2008/09 season: ratings were down 16 percent.
– Don’t read this EW.com story unless you want to know the major twist that will kick off The CW’s remake of Melrose Place in the fall.
– What was missing from the American Idol finale (besides an Adam Lambert win, of course)? A goofy Will Ferrell song that was cut.
– Fringe‘s Kirk Acevedo took to his Facebook page earlier this week to say he’d been fired from the show. Not so, says a show producer.
– First Guiding Light is cancelled, and now All My Children killed Stuart Chandler. What is going on in daytime TV?!
– Just when you think you can’t possibly love Neil Patrick Harris more, you find out he has pop-up books in his guest room, Kiehl’s products in the shower and a selection of magazines in his bathroom. NPH!
– And in more things that make perfect sense to me, Project Runway star (and he is the real star of the show) Tim Gunn will become a Marvel Comics superhero.
Charlie Sheen, Russell Brand and Louis C.K. are getting most of the attention, but I’m most excited that one of the best new shows of last TV season — Wilfred — returns for its second season on FX tonight (10PM ET). Season one of the series ended with a cliffhanger — had Ryan (Elijah Wood) […]