Is Episodes TV’s Best Sitcom?

In Showtime’s hit sitcom Episodes‘ first scene, a marriage is destroyed, revelations spill out onto the screen, and a car crash injures Friends star Matt LeBlanc. From this hysterical and kinetic opening, this series establishes itself as a refreshing, groundbreaking, and conniving invasion of the sitcom genre’s personal space. Normally, the genre is forced to present such drudgery as Two and a Half Men, Dads, Men at Work, and The Big Bang Theory. Despite captivating the masses with each new season, these shows refuse to sink their teeth into anything original or intellectually stimulating. They, guided by focus-group pandering and generic studio material, never deliver anything exciting or original. Recycling old plot-lines, character arcs, and jokes, they get kicked to the curb by pop-culture and critical analysis.

Thankfully, Episodes has come along to show them how it’s done. With its starry-eyed premise, crude humour, and realistic outlook, the snappy sitcom contains more honesty and integrity in one episode than Two and Half Men does in its whopping eleven (and counting) series run. With season 3 hitting its strides, I went back over the first two seasons to deconstruct and reconstruct its many engaging elements. Dividing this article into sitcom’s well-known structural facets, this may, hopefully, convince people to tune-in to this enlightening show.

Story

Stephen Mangan & Tamsin Greig in EpisodesAfter the car crash sequence, the story travels back six months. The show follows a married couple, Shaun (Stephen Mangan) and Beverley (Tamsin Greig) Lincoln, after their immense BAFTA wins. With their sitcom Liman’s Boys becoming a world-wide smash hit, this writing, directing, and producing duo have become British TV icons. During the after party, they are approached by Hollywood network executive and media mogul Merc Lapidus (John Pankow).

Lapidus, driven by ego, rudeness, and excess, offers the Lincolns a prestigious career opportunity in Los Angeles. Right off the bat, Episodes establishes a kooky yet witty culture clash. Merc, talking in a caricatured British/Australian accent whilst around the Lincolns, becomes a slimy and irritable antagonist. This story arc, based around the Lincolns moving from rain-drenched London to Brightly-saturated LA, becomes a treasured aspect of this skin-wrinkling series. Adjusting awkwardly to studio-speak and hearsay, the couple steadily relinquish control of their beloved series.

Showcasing Hollywood and sitcom production’s darkest shades, the show’s wink-and-nudge story-lines become hysterically absurd. With the show transforming from Boarding school-set dramedy to wacky Ice Hockey-related sitcom trash, the Lincolns struggle to keep their heads above water. In the second episode, after cocky yet charismatic TV star Matt LeBlanc’s introduction, devilishly crude personalities and revelations arise. In fact, season 1 etches itself into the consciousness thanks to its raw edginess and surprising turns. Thanks to alluring people, tempting offers, and material objects, this couple, by season 1’s end, face divorce and the studio’s axe.

Season 2, however, delves into the all-important, and sometimes scandalous, relationships. Driving the heartless yet blackly reflexive narrative, debaucherous activity and temptations threaten to unravel several uneasy alliances. Despite its reflective structure, this sitcom revels in secrets, lies, and sitcom-esque intricacies. Providing this complicated pairing some love interests, awkward moments, and lingering feelings, the show deliberates on the good, bad, and ugly sides of all types of professional and personal relationships.

Characters

Matt LeBlanc in EpisodesObviously, sitcoms rest on their actors’ charisma, likeability, and comedic timing. Certain actors can save otherwise atrocious sitcoms. For example, Patrick Warburton has lifted Rules of Engagement out of the forgettable-comedy-TV doldrums throughout its lengthy run. Here, LeBlanc waltz’s into this show with his cocky attitude and enlightening reputation in tow. Immediately, this version of LeBlanc lambasts his ‘nice-guy’ persona.

This foul-mouthed celebrity indulges in the cliched tinsel-town lifestyle. Calling big-shots and aficionados about his new restaurant, his begrudging nature and brash tone overshadow the lead characters’ motivations. Immediately poking holes in the Lincolns’ hit sitcom, the cynical superstar isn’t the series creators’ optimum choice. With LeBlanc depicted as a womanising, two-faced sociopath, the show thrives on Hollywood’s cruel identity and its inhabitants’ socially-inept personalities.

With Friends and Joey being the gigantic elephants in the room, LeBlanc comments on his own overwhelming wealth and opportunistic persona. With grey hair and a slightly bloated stomach, this LeBlanc is presented as a celebrity who lives for excess, deceit, and temptation. Throughout season 1, LeBlanc becomes an intriguing celebrity for the series’ creators to bounce off of. With Beverly’s prejudices getting in her way, Shaun is able to befriend LeBlanc. Shaun’s sarcasm and LeBlanc’s brashness kick-start several enthralling episodes throughout season 1.

However, in season 2, LeBlanc’s inane mistakes push Shaun, Merc, and himself over the edge. However, like LeBlanc, the surrounding characters also hop on roller-coaster rides of emotional torment and heartache. Carol (Kathleen Rose Perkins) becomes the Lincoln’s shining light in this sickly-sweet-yet-pitch-black universe. Lying through her teeth, the ‘truth’ is continually sugar-coated by Carol’s shiny grin. However, due to complex obstacles, her overwrought frustration reaches the surface by season 1 and 2’s end. Holding onto secrets with suffocating force, her bright persona blankets immense anger and pain.

Unlike many sitcoms, Episodes provides several wacky yet humanistic and flawed characters. Despite the egos, personas, and insults, these characters are driven by thrills, sex, war, love, and chaos. With two strangers immersed into this gratuitous world, this particular hook provides two avatars for audience members to empathise with. We, like the Lincolns, settle uncomfortably into this cynical, slimy, and gratuitous version of Hollywood and the studio system.

Humour

Kathleen Rose Perkins & John Pankow in EpisodesObviously, sitcom humour contains drastic differences to movie or stand-up comedic hijinks. With sitcoms, nearly every line of dialogue or oafish pratfall is designed to illicit a raucous laugh. With studio audience or laugh tracks guiding each joke, scene, episode, and season, the characters behave differently to those of other entertainment mediums.

No doubt, the characters from The Big Bang Theory would have vastly different speech patterns to those of a darkly comedic Aaron Sorkin creation. With humour vital to a sitcom’s ever-lasting success, the material and acting must deliver that extra ‘oomph’ needed to make a pratfall or one-liner successful. Thankfully, Episodes, with the added incentive of not having a laugh track, is created by well-minded creators, writers, and directors.

With this show based heavily on one actor’s previous successes, the show needed, right off the bat, to delve into LeBlanc’s hidden character traits. What does he think of the present day studio system? What does he think about his loyal followers? And, most importantly, why is he so startlingly different to Joey? Naturally, the show takes several left turns along the way. In each episode, the characters reflect upon their own and each other’s career choices and tabloid-media-induced issues. With LeBlanc’s personality and actions getting in the Lincolns’ way, he looks back on is post-Friends life. Divorce, sex, and booze guzzling prove to be kryptonite for this mega-star.

Calling up his Friends co-stars to ask for cameo appearances on his new sitcom, many sequences display LeBlanc’s strange tendencies, irritating behaviour, and larger-than-life presence. With LeBlanc making fun of Joey (a critical and commercial flop lasting a mere two seasons), he focuses on life’s glowing yet superficial positives and disastrous negatives. In addition, the studio system’s absurdities throw the Lincolns off their game. With their show transitioning drastically from British comedy gold to forgettable American trash, this culture clash scenario provides many big laughs. With diets, bizarre egos, and expensive accessories dictating their lives, the Lincolns become sympathetic and hilariously unfortunate characters.

With its engaging characters, intriguing stories, cynical yet realistic outlook, and hysterically absurd humour, Episodes is an entertaining, nastily relevant, and tasty sitcom. Stripped of the genre’s tiresome cliches and irritating tone, the series pokes fun at popular sitcoms, Hollywood, and the public and media’s perceptions of celebrity. Into its third season, Episodes is establishing itself as an intelligent and raucous deconstruction of TV programming and the First World. Most sitcoms don’t have the guile to delve into interesting issues or even truly deceitful behaviour. Thankfully, Episodes swings for the fences and succeeds.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Hi, I'm Tom Munday. I'm a Journalism graduate from Perth's Curtin University who's passionate about film, TV, music, theatre, and sport. Happy reading, folks!
Edited by Misagh.

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15 Comments

  1. Joe Holland

    Cool article. I’ll have to check this show out. I’ve always wondered how cliched shows like “Two Broke Girls” and “The Big Bang Theory” stay on the air. People must actually watch them, right? How is that possible?

  2. I’m only three episodes far in this show, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Extras with Ricky Gervais. The plot is very similar: someone with a great idea for a sitcom can make his dream comes true, but then they notice that “the network” has completely different plans with it to attract a bigger audience. And not only the scenario is similar but also the role of Matt Leblanc is a key ingredient of Extras, where lots of famous people play a parody-version of themselves. As said, I’m only 3 episodes far and maybe things change, but so far this show looks a lot like Extras.

  3. Monique Schneider
    0

    This season has been poor. Seems to me what happened is exactly what they do on episodes all the time. Focus on the young guys and bring in somebody fresh from outside. Too bad, the people playing the kids and new boss are about as good at acting as Matt is at being faithful.

    • The scene of Matt trying to type out that apology letter to Diane is already one of the funniest things the shows ever done.

    • LaWrence
      0

      I love season 3, I think it’s on par with previous 2 seasons.

  4. i just love the idea that he could actually be like that in real life

  5. Mike Garza
    0

    What would make for a more satisfying season is Shaun gets revenge on Matt by sleeping with the blind lady or his ex. It has to be someone whom will complicate things for Matt and it would really be great if the one he sleeps with says to Matt it was great sex. Now that would be a game changer for the show, it would also get back at Beverly for so casually sleeping with him [Matt]when he did nothing wrong. The M ourning gal thing she used was just an excuse to get what she wanted from Matt.

  6. Leslie Bates
    0

    Great show! Witty writers. In the same class as Seinfeld. Yep, I said it.

  7. I admire the fact that Crane and Klarik write all the scripts by themselves, while most other shows have a stable of writers, but the resulting long delay between seasons has been a drawback.

  8. jkudzm1

    I like your article, you’ve definitely gotten me interesting in the show. I honestly haven’t heard of it up until now so thanks for writing a nice overview for it.

  9. Carolyn
    0

    Just found this show and I’m obsessed. I had no idea Matt LeBlanc was so charming and funny. Love this role for him much better than ‘Joey’.

  10. Nicola Kahler

    Great article ! I llooovvveeeeee Episodes, it is such an underrated show !

  11. Thomas,

    I appreciate your detailed take on “Episodes.” The point with which I agreed the most was the distinction between sitcoms like “Big Bang Theory” and shows like “Episodes.” These programs with embedded laugh tracks and robotic studio audiences contain corny and cliche comedy, relying on unoriginal and predictable jokes. Usually, these jokes are simple one-liners, requiring less thinking. “Episodes,” and a few other similar show are far more unique and comedic, bouncing off of humor based within the story lines, requiring more focus and intelligence to understand. I am also a huge fan of “Modern Family,” which is another great example of a show that uses physical humor and more ‘complicated’ jokes.

  12. Kathryn Talbot

    I’m usually not a huge fan of ‘culture clash’ comedies, but Episodes makes the genre seem really fresh, something which is very difficult in this day and age. I hope to see much more of it (and your writing) in the future!

  13. Oh this sounds pretty cool! Ill have to check it out!

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