Episode Tite: "Episode 1"
Writers: David Crane & Jeffrey Klarik
Director: James Griffiths
Sean (Stephen Mangan) and Beverly Lincoln (Tamsin Greig), a husband and wife writing team behind a hit British TV series are lured to Hollywood for an American adaptation of their show. From there, minor pratfalls spiral into a literal car wreck.
In a glorious Hollywood mansion, we see Sean desperately try to convince his wife, Beverly not to leave. He assures her that they can depart the country in a few days with their heads held high, but she doesn’t care about the show. She’s angry that she caught him "wanking off" to a picture of another woman that they know and accuses him of having an affair. She drives off, ignoring his warning that she’s on the wrong side of the road. Elsewhere, we meet actor Matt LeBlanc, who struggles with his voice activated cell phone before getting into a head on collision with Beverly.
Flashback to seven weeks earlier, Sean and Beverly win the BAFTA for their hit comedy series, "Lyman’s Boys." Although their British colleagues are clearly jealous of their continued success, an American TV executive named Merc Lapidus (John Pankow) approaches them about adapting the series for American television with both Lincolns as the head writers. Despite Beverly’s obvious trepidation, Sean clearly wants to take him up on the offer and the two decide to take the plunge into Hollywood.
Once they arrive, the Lincolns are impressed by the beauty of Beverly Hills and their huge rented mansion. But the problems start early when the guard at the gated community won’t let them into their own home. The mansion itself is left over from a reality show shoot, with fake columns and a slow filling hot tub that foils the couple’s attempts to get intimate. At their first meeting for the show, the Lincolns tell Carol Rance (Kathleen Rose Perkins) and other network executives that they want Julian Bullard to reprise his role as Lyman and have already offered him the part. To their horror, Carol tells them that Julian will have to audition because Merc has never seen the show.
When Julian (Richard Griffiths) arrives for his audition, he good naturedly goes through with it and delivers a knock out performance in his native accent. Despite the positive response from the room of network suits, Merc insists that Julian sounds too British or "too butlery." Once again, Julian is only too happy to read the part again in an American accent. But half way through he falters badly and openly acknowledges that he has cost himself the part. The Lincolns seem truly sorry about the outcome, but they are later momentarily comforted when Carol tells them that they have a major TV actor interested in starring in their show.
However, when they learn the actor in question is Matt LeBlanc, the Lincolns are too shocked to respond.
I love that the idea that Matt LeBlanc not only realizes that he’s not a great actor but he has seemingly embraced it. His lack of depth and ability is the essential joke of this series, which really is his comeback attempt. But he’s barely in this episode, so it’s too soon to tell if it’s going to work.
If "Episodes" feels like a British comedy series, it’s because it really is a BBC co-production with Showtime. And it definitely seems to have a British flavor despite the mostly American cast. The standout performer here is Richard Griffiths as Julian, who may have been better suited to be the lead character. Despite being in only a few scenes, Griffiths steals the show with his well refined delivery and his sad, sudden failure. Even his line about hoping that a bar was in the building to help him forget his ruined audition was very affecting. American audiences will probably get to know him better when the next "Pirates of The Caribbean" movie comes out, but Griffiths really deserves a chance to headline his own series.
In fact, the lead characters here are the primary problem. Sean and Beverly aren’t especially well developed and they come off as flat (and in Beverly’s case, shrewish). They’re almost too ordinary to carry the comedy. The Lincolns are essentially playing the straight man role together to Hollywood’s insanity, but so far they’re not that interesting as characters. Kathleen Rose Perkins fares a little better as Carol, the executive who is reluctantly honest with them while attempting to put a positive spin on everything. John Pankow was great as Merc Lapidus and his candid discussion of his cancer and alcoholism actually made for a nice bit of awkward comedy.
Most of the jokes revolve around the notion that Hollywood is very weird and very fake. But it doesn’t really take it much further than that. The recurring gag of the forgetful gatekeeper was fun, but Hollywood jokes were old back when "The Beverly Hillbillies" was doing them. "Episodes" needs to deliver a fresher take on that subject and it hasn’t found it yet.
Regardless, the first episode was entertaining and I’ve heard that Griffiths will at least be back for the second episode. If "Episodes" can live up to its premise, it may be an enjoyable little comedy. Here’s hoping that it will.
Crave Online Rating: 7 out of 10.