Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Honking Box Review: Episodes

Well, a round of applause for Episodes, then. Even leaving the content aside for a moment, the fact it was allowed even reach the end of its run at a time when the BBC are brutally clawing shows from the schedules left, right and centre is a real accomplishment in itself. Bravo, seriously.

But let’s save the true applause for the brilliance contained within, for Episodes turned out to be quite the little gem. The Showtime/BBC co-production had set itself something of a challenge – aside from the ‘too many cooks’ ethos that turned the latest series of Primeval into a total shark-jumping shitshower, the high-profile and very apparent presence of Matt LeBlanc was another dangerous component.

Post-Friends vehicles for the Golden Six seem to attract a disproportionate amount of criticism. And while such scrutiny for Joey, a direct spin-off, might be understandable to an extent, it's largely meant some real gems have hit the commissioners' dumper far quicker than is justifiable.

And Episodes, an incredibly daring vehicle in which LeBlanc bravely plays an unflattering, distorted parody of himself, is no exception. Critics and fans tore it to shreds just minutes into the pilot, but having seen the series through to its climax, it was in fact, something of a triumph.

Admittedly, the sceptics had a point in wondering how good ol' British irony would stay above water in this curious transatlantic teaming, but the execution was actually quite an impressive achievement, choosing to play up to the cultural differences on-screen rather than a clumsy stab at a compromise.

And while the first couple of episodes might have taken a while to get going – the saving grace being the genuinely hilarious expressions of Daisy Haggard – the overall arc was sturdy, smart and hugely engaging, while all the little quirks within ranged from the shrewd to the uproarious to the touching to the gloriously un-PC.

But it seems those little quirks weren’t quite enough to win over viewers at large, and more’s the pity. The subtleties of Lisa Kudrow's short-lived but now cult series The Comeback failed to capture the drooling masses gagging for a burst of "WE WERE ON A BREAK!" familiarity. And while Episodes was a far more accessible vehicle, with its slapstick and its comfortable Friends references, there's a real danger that its gentle irony, its invitation to find your own humour amongst its nuances, and its free use of the word "cunt" might have scared off enough viewers to get the axeman sharpening his tired blade. Does Episodes serve a second series? Absolutely. Will it get a second series? Sadly, we fear the commissioners will be hovering somewhere around “I don’t wanna see that!” or thereabouts.

(...A quote which, if you failed to recognise, proves the point nicely. Can we interest you in a “How YOU doin’?” instead, perhaps?)

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