Friday, February 4, 2011

Don't Miss "Episodes" on Showtime!

Funny how some series get all the publicity, and some seem to operate under the TV radar. Showtime's witty and wonderful new Sunday night comedy Episodes is definitely more the second than the first, even with former Friends star Matt LeBlanc starring. Episodes tells the tale of the adventures in Hollywood of two British television writers who come to America to adapt their hit English sitcom for U.S. TV.

What makes Episodes such a treat is the presence of veteran Brit comic actors Steven Mangan and Tamsin Greig playing the husband and wife writing team. Mangan and Greig starred together in the cult Brit medical comedy Green Wing, an absurd treat which has just shown up on Hulu, believe it or not. Green Wing also stars Sarah Alexander (Coupling), Julian Rhind-Tutt (Keen Eddie), Olivia Colman (Peep Show) and other tremendously talented Brits -- highly recommended! (Green Wing aired a few years ago on BBC America when they were a little better about running genuinely British programs instead of syndicated American offerings.)

You might also recognize Greig from her co-starring role on Black Books, another terrific Britcom which has managed a fair bit of exposure over here and is also available on Hulu. Black Books starred stand-up comedian Dylan Moran as the drunk and misanthropic proprietor of a small bookshop, with Greig as the next-door shopkeeper and Bill Bailey as a harried employee. (And if you like Black Books, you might also like Spaced which is on Hulu, too, and co-stars Star Trek's Simon Pegg.)

Of course, for American audiences the big draw is Matt LeBlanc, Friends' Joey and also the star of his own spin-off Joey after that. Several of the producers behind Friends created Episodes, and they seem to know their star's strengths. In Episodes he plays a fictional version of himself, how much like the real guy I don't know. The Matt LeBlanc on Episodes is a divorced father of two little boys, kind of a mopey drunk, has a big penis, and turns out to be a nicer guy than the two British writers -- who have had his participation forced upon them -- would have thought. LeBlanc is good playing Matt LeBlanc, and you'll end up liking him and finding his breezy comic style a definite high point.

Showtime has made the first three episodes of Episodes available at their website and on YouTube; since the fifth segment will be airing this coming Sunday, it's a nice gesture but not the perfect one. Definitely do try to catch the show; you'll love Greig, Mangan and LeBlanc. One of the ironic things about Episodes is that it's about a British show being badly adapted by Americans for Americans, and following Episodes on Showtime on Sunday nights is Shameless, the American adaptation of a hit British comedy of the same name. Showtime's Shameless seems not to be falling into the Hall of Shame reserved for most ill-conceived remakes -- think NBC's horrible version of the delightful Coupling several seasons back -- and that's to their credit.

Check out Episodes on Showtime, airing Sunday nights at 9:30pm. This coming Saturday evening beginning at 8pm Showtime 2 will be showing the first four episodes, too.

Highly recommended!

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