Thursday, January 27, 2011


Reader Travis Puterbaugh wrote: "Ken, how about a column on "Episodes," the new Showtime series. Have you seen it yet?"

I feel bad reviewing a show that’s on SHOWTIME since not all of my readers can watch it. But I see that you can go on line to Hulu and places like that and screen episodes, so what the hell?

I have seen EPISODES, and I enjoy it. I do have some issues but first the good stuff. Kathleen Rose Perkins, as the network VP of Comedy is so pitch-perfect dead-on that it makes me cringe and roar with laughter every time she opens her mouth. Creators David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik know of whom they write.  Ms. Perkins portrayal is nothing short of inspired character assassination.

Her assistant, played by Daisy Haggard, also kills me. She’s a network executive in comedy development with zero sense of humor and less-than-zero personality. You may watch it and think, “Well, then how does a person like that get that job?” And the answer is, “I’ve been wondering the same thing for twenty years!” (In fairness, not all network comedy execs are blank like that, but in any given meeting there always seems to be one.)

The other revelation is Matt LeBlanc. He’s smart! Who knew? He plays a (hopefully) distorted version of himself -- the self-centered asshole star. But what I really like is (a) the real-life Matt is a good sport for allowing himself to be portrayed like that, and (b) he knows to play the character equal parts monster and equal parts charming. That’s what elevates him from a villain to what America really loves to see -- a true psychopath.

The premise is loosely based on Steven Moffat and his wife Sue Vertue, who created COUPLING for the BBC. (COUPLING is my favorite sitcom from the last ten years.) It was a big hit in England and NBC talked them into overseeing a U.S. version. NBC, and by that I mean Jeff Zucker, then proceeded to change and ruin every single aspect of the show. Similarly, in EPISODES, a British couple with a hit series are seduced into making an American version, and they too are thwarted at every turn.

My only problem is this (and I had the same problem with the movie TV SET): At some point, the showrunners (in this case, the British couple) are going to say no. When the network won’t approve the British star of their series (HISTORY BOY’S extraordinary Richard Griffiths) and instead force Matt LeBlanc upon them, it’s very very funny, but the truth is the showrunners would say, “Fuck no! We’re going back to London. Kiss our ass!” And when Matt LeBlanc wants to change the character from a boarding school teacher to a hockey coach, I laughed, but again, the showrunners would say, “We’re so outta here.  Cheeri-fucking-oh!”. It just makes me uncomfortable to see showrunners portrayed with absolutely no spine. Because here’s the dirty little secret: You might as well fight and do the show your way because even if you do all of their suggestions, and even if you surrender to them at every turn, if the show doesn’t work YOU still get blamed.

So that’s my issue, and I know it’s a personal one. I understand that you need to exaggerate, you’re doing satire, and you have to take some creative license. But that’s why I’m so in love with Kathleen Rose Perkins. As outrageous and horrifying as her character is – it’s not an exaggeration. She’s real!

EPISODES is worth watching. It's a fun send-up of television.   You'll laugh till you hang yourself. 

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