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March 03, 2011  | by: Dania McDermott

Episodes

Having wrapped up its punchy first season nearly two weeks ago, Showtime’s latest offering, Episodes, has certainly stomped its foot in the cable TV landscape. Despite relying on the age-old theme of “culture shock” for entertainment’s sake, the show is reasonably well-mapped, distinctly modern, and, most importantly, pretty damn funny.

But good shows don’t always live to see a second season. Just as Friends castmate Lisa Kudrow‘s hysterical HBO show-within-a-show, The Comeback, was prematurely cancelled, the possibility remained that Showtime’s Episodes might see no more – until now.

Faced with the task of satirizing Hollywood – television networks, specifically – co-creators David Crane (Friends) and Jeffrey Klarik (Mad About You) come well-prepared for their role. Playing an exaggerated version of himself, hunky Friends alum Matt Leblanc also knows a thing or two about being a TV star – not to mention Matt Leblanc.

But the other main players aren’t merely the salt and pepper to Matt’s hearty appeal: British actors Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig couple perfectly as the slightly naïve but hopeful husband and wife, eager to attain some professional validation American style.

Of course, no series can pass muster without some form of conflict, and for their respective characters Sean and Beverly Lincoln, that obstacle is obvious: Their newfound network executive. Played by John Pankow, head honcho Merc Lapidus institutes a bevy of changes to the couple’s wildly successful UK series, Lyman’s Boys, beginning with its lead actor.

Originally portrayed by a well-seasoned British thespian (Harry Potter‘s Uncle Vernon), the categorically bottom-line oriented executive’s first order of business is to get the old fat guy out. The second? You guessed it; to get a youngish stud in.

Matt Leblanc: Bringer of Sexy

And since there’s no discernible history of school administrators being, well, attractive, there’s no reason to cast Matt Leblanc in a lead that isn’t believable. Thus, old and obese turns early 40′s and fit, Headmaster becomes Hockey Coach, and Lyman’s Boys is reborn Pucks.

Helpless to inject change (or rather, halt it), the Lincolns ultimately find themselves wondering if the American fame they sought was worth potentially destroying their romantic relationship (and then the series ends). This tension between wanting it “all” and finding that there may be unwanted casualties as a result stands as the deepest of observations about the Hollywood machine depicted in Episodes.

But in spite of criticisms citing the series as too reliant upon industry stereotypes for a laugh, larger truths loom between jokes. Apart from the very real possibility that a career in Hollywood will usher the death of your marriage, Episodes also speaks to its female audience directly: From questioning a woman’s longevity in an ageist field, to examining the shameless lengths some will go for professional attainment, to reminding us that Matt Leblanc is “not a piece of meat,” there are, in fact, lessons to be learned. We’re just happy the executives’ll let us.

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