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Published: Thursday, 1/6/2011

'Episodes' throws punches, punch lines at Hollywood

TV shows with an entertainment-industry backdrop often fail in the ratings, so thank goodness Episodes is on Showtime, where ratings are of less concern.

A low-key comedy of manners, Episodes (9:30 p.m. Sunday) follows the trials and tribulations of Sean (Stephen Mangan) and Beverly (Tamsin Greig), a married couple who produced the hit British TV comedy Lyman's Boys. They are asked to re-create the show for an American TV network, a la The Office.

Beverly is hesitant but Sean, seduced by the money a Hollywood series would bring, quickly agrees. Soon the pair are fighting with a security guard to gain access to their temporary home in a Los Angeles gated community. And there are more fights to come.

Sean and Beverly learn that lies are the currency of choice in Hollywood and promises are only as long-lasting as the promise-breaker deems necessary. By the premiere's end, their first choice for the lead role in the American adaptation of their series about a boarding-school headmaster -- the actor (Richard Griffiths) who originated the role in England -- is deemed "too English" and network executives have a new idea.

"For the erudite, verbally dexterous headmaster for an elite boys' academy, you're suggesting ... Joey?" says Sean, incredulous at the thought of Matt LeBlanc (Friends) as the star of their show. But he is and LeBlanc also is the star of Episodes, playing a fictionalized version of himself.

"I need this to be a hit or at least something you can't make fun of on a talk show," the LeBlanc character says, no doubt an intended reference to the ill-fated Friends spinoff, Joey.

LeBlanc and Beverly butt heads almost instantly, while LeBlanc and Sean hit it off. It's a credit to Episodes that while LeBlanc is the brand-name star, the series keeps Beverly and Sean as its center. They're the fish-out-of-water in Hollywood and offer an entry point for viewers at home who may not be aware of network organizational structure but know a talentless executive when she's on screen. My favorite punching bag is a blond comedy-development executive (British actress Daisy Haggard) whose face is perpetually scrunched up like she constantly smells an unpleasant odor.

This seven-episode series, written by David Crane (Friends, The Class) and Jeffrey Klarik (Mad About You, The Class), doesn't offer many new ideas about the evils of the TV business -- a lot of the ground covered here was mined previously by the underrated 1999-2001 Showtime series Beggars and Choosers. But it's still fun to join in the mocking of Hollywood, a big, juicy target that Episodes hits with ease.



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