Matt LeBlanc is on a show! I wouldn’t have admitted it after the pilot episode of Episodes aired last week with a mere minute of airtime for LeBlanc. But in the second show, Matt finally shows up. And he’s not that bad; in fact, he may be the funniest part of Showtime’s most recent comedy series. And in this episode, we are introduced to two Matt LeBlanc’s.
It’s hard to imagine a show about the underbelly of Hollywood that doesn't fall into certain overused character conventions. And Episodes is no exception. That being said, writers Jeffrey Klarik (Dream On) and David Crane (co-creator of Friends) do a good job in the second episode of keeping us on our toes. They manage to reinforce characters we all know while surprising us at the same time. The show starts with Sean and Beverly Lincoln shell shocked at the networks’ suggestion of Matt LeBlanc as the lead of their new show. Hearing their trepidation, the network suits retreat, naturally, and say that nothing is set in stone, and it would be more of a courtesy meeting than anything else, as LeBlanc is a huge fan of the British show. The two unknowing writers agree to meet with LeBlanc, but have already made up their mind that it would be a horrible idea for their show. At the lunch meeting, Sean and Beverly’s fears are confirmed when LeBlanc seems more interested his cell phone than the meeting. And surprise! He’s never seen the show (much like the network exec who bought the show in the first place). He’s awful. The idea that an actor is distant, arrogant and rude is not new. Later, after it’s revealed that the network offered LeBlanc the part, the emotionally drained couple is forced to attend a dinner at network president Merc Lapidus’ home.
Here’s where the curveballs begin. We meet Merc’s wife, and as the actress playing his wife turned around, I preemptively rolled my eyes, expecting a super young, super thin, super blonde model. As it turns out, she is blind. Surprising when we only know Merc as a shallow, empty, worthless ass. But his wife, Jamie, is a lovely woman who does charity work. Sean and Beverly are as shocked as we are, and slowly begin to warm to Merc. It’s rare for any one dimensional character in a series to suddenly change for the better. Merc seemed like the one character destined to remain the constant comic foil of the show, and therefore stagnant. That Klarik and Crane decided to give him a heart was more than astonishing.
Also, LeBlanc is at the party. And despite their horrible first meeting, LeBlanc surprises them too. Since accepting the role, LeBlanc has watched all of their original series. And he loves the show. He moons over the couples writing abilities, compliments Beverly, and has notes that are really, really smart. Sean and Beverly are completely won over. In a moment alone, LeBlanc confesses that he isn’t right for the part but wants desperately to make the show work, a rare show of humility for an actor in any setting, let alone on a show about how frustrating it is to work with actors.
But the writers giveth, and so the writers taketh away. After the amazing character arcs in the first half of the episode, both characters revert immediately to their old ways. During dinner, as Jamie tells a heartbreaking story of bringing toys to orphans, Merc Lapidus takes advantage of his wife’s blindness and mimes his own death, much to the unease of his dinner guests. We also learn that Lapidus is sleeping with Carol Rance, the development exec. So he’s back to being awful. And the Matt LeBlanc we thought we knew? Turns out he laughs at kids with Tourette's (which I’ll admit, the way he describes it is pretty damn funny). But Beverly completely loses her cool and the two start what is sure to be a recurring feud. At the end of the party, LeBlanc shows how cunning he can be by going above Sean and Beverly and right to Merc with his ideas for the show, which has now somehow become about a hockey coach and is titled “Pucks.” LeBlanc tells Merc they were all Beverly’s ideas and Merc of course flips over it. And once again, the decisions about the show are made by others. And Sean and Beverly are shocked.
The twists and turns in the show were fleeting, but somehow that makes it more realistic. Real people change, constantly, and everyone has both good and bad qualities. And that is rarely shown in half hour comedies, especially in the first two episodes. Now if only Sean and Beverly would change in any way, the show may become a true depiction of how shows are made. For better or worse.
Joey Slamon lives in Los Angeles, where she is not an actor or a screenwriter. But she does drink a lot.