Comedy becomes tragedy when nobody gets the joke. TV comedy often manages to avoid this by using canned laughter to tell us that at least somebody finds it amusing. If we aren’t laughing we are odd, in the unfortunate minority that are ignorant to the subtleties of the punch line. Conversely, some of us need the bottled laughter to tell us when to laugh. As much as I hate this intrusive, unnatural and outdated choice of production, perhaps Episodes should have considered it- if only to remind us that it was supposed to be funny.
Matt LeBlanc’s vehicle to overwhelming success was one such comedy that in the end relied on a laughter track to inject fresh air into its well loved yet decaying lungs. But this isn’t a review of E4. Episodes is the antithesis of the lazy sitcom, fresh, sharp and subversive according to BBC hype. The premise is this: successful British TV show is transplanted to the US where it is stripped of its integrity and made into crass American filler to be put in an advertising sandwich. Something that happens more often than we perhaps acknowledge- the recent adaptation of Skins is one example (but the subject of a separate rant, I think). Even if it does sound an awful lot like the second series of ‘Extras’ there is a lot of LOL potential, agreed? This knowing, introspective and self mocking style of programme is currently very much in vogue and Episodes promised to deliver the goods again.
Joey- sorry, LeBlanc- stars alongside Green Wing duo Stephen Mangan (the one who looks like Alan Davies only with a baboon’s jaw) and Tamsin Greig (Debbie Aldridge!). Both jolly decent, jolly English and jolly funny when they get given the right characters to play. A hodge-podge of plastic unknowns fill most of the other roles, although Hollywood being Hollywood no doubt some familiar faces will pop up- the sublime Richard Griffiths wandered in at one point, looking as British as Big Ben.
Unfortunately, the first episode wobbled, teetered and ultimately fell flat. I desperately wanted to laugh. This was supposed to be another glorious display of English humour, but instead I found myself questioning whether our most famous export even existed. Obvious, sketch show worthy jokes involving incompliant gate security and baths which take an age to fill barely raised a smile and the awkward moments which have become a staple of contemporary comedy were just that- plain awkward. The bit with Griffiths was supposed to be the banger, the winning moment, but despite his best efforts he was unable to produce anything from a meatless turkey of a scene. Mangan and Greig seemed stagey to the point of being unnatural. Perhaps this can all be forgiven in the interests of laying out the (admittedly reasonably complicated) plot for the series, but it was disappointing.
LeBlanc made more of an appearance the following week and the script could slide into the comfortable, effective groove of taking our idea of his personality and playing with it. This was better. The head of the network stole most of the scenes with his predictable ignorance and general mischievousness. Something is taking shape, layers are developing but the potential of the conceit has not been realised. The tension between English and American interpretations of humour that should be the driving force of the programme has barely been glanced at. Instead, the fakery exhibited in Hollywood, where the orgasm is perpetually deceitful, has taken the front seat and this has been done twice as well already by Entourage (PLEASE youtube Ari Gold if you want to brighten up your day). Overall, there are no belly laughs to be had. Maybe they’ll arrive at the end of the series when it stops trying to be so clever.
Episodes takes the joke so far that it goes full circle. A good idea may have been stretched and contorted to a point where it simply isn’t funny, at least for those of us who aren’t in the industry. I still have some hope- the scene has not fully been set yet- but currently it just serves as a reminder that Extras and The Trip truly were spectacular.