My landlords made a very specific request of me, but it’s a funny one.
Episodes is a show about making a show. When Sean and Beverly Lincoln (Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig) win a BAFTA for their show “Lyman’s Boys,” they are ecstatic when it gets picked up for an American adaptation. Unfortunately, it quickly goes off the rails when the network starts to force changes upon the show and replaces their planned lead with Matt LeBlanc. Rather than a tight British show about a man acting as mentor to a number of youths, the show quickly becomes a dirty sitcom named “Pucks.” In the first season, they film the pilot for the series, which gets picked up and, despite being critically panned, gets enough viewers to last until season 4. In this season, Season 5, Matt LeBlanc has been working on a game show that he hates while Sean and Beverly are trying to sabotage the show they’re currently working on which is another terrible adaptation of one of their good ideas.
In this episode, Matt, having been asked to sell out on QVC, asks Sean and Beverly to come to his ranch and work on creating a new project for them. On the way, they find out that Carol (Kathleen Rose Perkins), Beverly’s friend, is sleeping with fired network president Merc Lapidus (John Pankow), who is also now engaged to former “Pucks” co-star Morning Randolph (Mircea Monroe). At the ranch, Matt attempts to shoot at a figure outside during the night, claiming it’s a wild boar that lives near the ranch. The next day, the trio attempt to write a show, only for Matt to be completely incapable of focusing or contributing for more than a minute. He ends up pitching a show called “WHORES!!” only to find out that Netflix is already developing it. They take a break to go shooting and Sean accidentally shoots the boar. Matt wants to kill it, but Beverly appeals to him to save it. Ultimately, after all of their efforts to get it to a vet, they abandon the boar after finding out it would cost over $12,000 to fix.
This show was brilliant and yet I feel like it never really got the audience it deserved. Of course, since it stayed on the air for five years, I might be wrong about that. I will admit that it sagged a bit in the middle, when both the show and the show-within-a-show were both attempting to pull more material out of nowhere which resulted in a heavy retreading of familiar territory, but at the beginning and the end this show was brilliant. The key to it, like the key to the original show that the couple wrote, is the dialogue. While I have frequently said that Frasier was the most British-style American show, this was the counterpoint, an American-style British show. The dialogue in this series is witty, fast-paced, and often layered with a lot of nuance and wordplay, usually coming out of the mouths of Sean and Beverly and at Matt’s expense.
This episode contains a number of great exchanges, particularly relating to Morning Randolph (who frequently has plastic surgery to keep herself employable in Hollywood) and to Merc Lapidus’s two-timing, but the two best scenes are when the three are working on the show and then dealing with the pig. While trying to work on the show, Sean and Beverly keep trying to pitch reasonable, creative ideas, while Matt mostly just shouts out buzzwords that he wants to define his character, many of which are completely unrelated. Rather than trying to develop one deep idea, Matt just wants one catchy, shallow pitch that will grab a network. We’re clearly supposed to recognize that Matt’s ideas are ridiculous and unfocused, including sequential pitches of being a killer, a president, and a guy who came back from the dead with special powers (no further elaboration is attempted). The punchline, though, is that when Matt comes out with a seemingly promising idea (that of being a caring pimp who runs a legal brothel), he immediately sabotages it by giving it a terrible name (Whores!!). While Sean and Beverly are actually interested enough to try and work on the show idea to make it more enriching, we get the second punchline that Matt’s idea not only works as is, but already was picked up. In a show built around mocking how America makes television, this is a solid shot in the industry’s ribs.
Then there’s the pig. The pig situation only lasts five minutes, but it’s a long, painful five minutes. The indication is that the pig is constantly defecating on itself and that both Matt and Sean are in favor of ending its (and their) misery, but Beverly works hard to humanize it, comparing it to Babe or Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web. We see the trio get dirty, tired, and invested in the pig’s health. Then, we hear about all of the work that the pig will have to go through to survive, but “he’s a fighter,” something that seems to get the characters even more determined to keep him alive. This is all a set up so that we find out when the price tag is revealed, it’s Beverly that immediately declares the pig dead. It’s a hilarious display of when principle gets destroyed by practicality.
Honestly, this show was great, and I was glad I got to watch it again for this review. Check it out yourself on Netflix when you have a chance.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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