Episodes: What's All the Fuss About?

I try not to judge a series too harshly based on its pilot, but it’s going to take some serious motivation to get me to watch Episodes next week. The show has received plenty of critical attention already, perhaps because it’s a satire of the television industry starring Matt LeBlanc as Matt LeBlanc. And the reviews have been almost entirely positive, which—in the show’s defense—may have upped my expectations quite a bit. Still, I didn’t enjoy Episodes’ first episode even a little. Actually, I kind of hated it.

The biggest problem: It wasn’t funny. I mean, at all. I didn’t laugh once. I smirked a couple times, but one of those may have been accidental. I like many different forms of comedy—broad, absurd, refined—but nothing about the Episodes pilot worked for me. Most of the jokes smacked of trying too hard: You know the punchline when you hear it, but you don’t have any real desire to laugh. While some of the best comedies aren’t about being LOL-worthy, there’s a difference between subtle humor and jokes that fall flat.

Episodes follows Sean and Beverly Lincoln (Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig), two English TV producers who have been tasked with turning their successful sitcom Lyman’s Boys into an American series. It’s a timely topic, with the U.S. incarnation of The Office still going strong and MTV’s remake of Skins premiering next week. But while the U.K. versions of The Office and Skins are legitimately good programmes (British spelling!), the snippet of Lyman’s Boys we see in Episodes’ pilot is dreadful. Seriously, why was everyone laughing? What a waste of a talented actor like Richard Griffiths. And the implication that it was somehow less funny with an American accent? I thought it sucked equally either way.

Episodes is not the first show to fall into this trap. Remember Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip? One of the major complaints lobbied against his behind-the-scenes look at a Saturday Night Live-esque program was that the sketch show in question wasn’t remotely amusing. We have to buy that people would actually watch the show-within-a-show. And if Episodes wants to derive humor from the way the original Lyman’s Boys is diluted for an American audience, it’s going to have to show us why Lyman’s Boys was worth watching in the first place. From what I’ve seen so far, I think I’d rather watch Episodes.

The other biggest problem I had with Episodes is that we’ve seen this Hollywood satire countless times before—and with much greater success. The underrated 2006 comedy The TV Set is perhaps the best (and funniest) look at how a series gets distilled and destroyed by a network. The plot is similar, but the execution is streets ahead. Of course, this is a TV site, so I won’t digress much further. I’ll just say this: if you’re going to recycle an old idea, at least make it good. There is a smidgen of originality in Episodes’ conceit—the transition from an English series to an American one, the casting of Matt LeBlanc as himself—but overall, it’s nothing mind-blowing.

I’ll continue to watch Episodes, if only to see what all the fuss is about. It’s a short season (seven episodes), and I want to see where they take the story. If Episodes does become what it set out to be, I’ll be the first to admit I judged it unfairly. But as it stands, it’s my pick for 2011’s first major TV disappointment.

What you think of the premiere?

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Jan 31, 2011
This show is brilliant - a great laugh, the characters are played perfectly, the uncomfortable bits in the show are supposed to be uncomfortable and remind me of The Office! See it for what it is - its lighthearted entertainment - I will be watching it every Monday at 10pm on BBC2 - love it!
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Jan 15, 2011
Just to clear up the confusion in some of the comments, this is an Anglo-American collaboration, created by two Americans (David Crane: Friends; Jeffrey Klarik: Mad About You) and a Brit (Jimmy Mulville: Chelmsford 123). However, the writers are the Americans, Crane and Klarik, who did some nice work together in the short-lived show "The Class".

I must admit, I'm in mixed minds about the first episode; It certainly didn't blow me away, but there were some amusing moments, and it's always a pleasure to see Richard Griffiths (I wonder why they didn't get him to play himself, like Matt LeBlanc?). Mangan and Greig are usually fun to watch (Green Wing on hulu is thoroughly recommended), but their performance, or perhaps more the script, felt uncomfortable.

One UK reviewer (Brian Viner for The Independent) astutely pointed out that similar could be said for Helen Baxendale's short-lived role of Emily in Friends, which was a weak spot in an otherwise very enjoyable show. The comedy cultures are quite different, making U.S. writing and U.K. acting styles difficult to mesh. Given the theme of the show I guess that seems appropriate, but I think it needs to be worked on if the show is to survive. Mangan and Greig's lines just don't quite feel authentic - not quite American, not quite British - and the result was something that felt unpleasantly forced. I'll keep watching, as the show has a lot of potential. I enjoy both UK and US comedies at their best (I moved from England to California a few years ago, and so relate closely to the "clash of cultures" portrayed), although I can't help but think that Greig and Mangan would be better suited if the script had a slightly surreal tinge, much like their previous roles in Green Wing and Black Books. The premise is fun, and everyone involved is capable of doing really great work. If I were the producers, I'd be pushing for more of a British influence on the core writing team, at least for Mangan and Greig's lines, but maybe the actors themselves will step forward and fill that role.
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Jan 14, 2011
You are totally right, nothing was genuinely funny. I hope it gets better. Better yet I expect better from a channel such as Showtime, make it happen Sho!
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Jan 14, 2011
I wasn't blown away by the first episode but I will give it a chance. There were some pretty good moments but there were some downright, painful to watch ones too. As kavselj pointed out, judging a whole series solely by the pilot is silly. This is certainly a wait and see situation.
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Jan 14, 2011
Agreed. The scene with Richard Griffiths was so un-funny that it was very hard to watch. The worst part: Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig's very forced banter...OMG brutal...
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Jan 13, 2011
@Alastor7800: Well, then hopefully episode 2 will be better. I must also say that I don't often watch comedies, so while most people might think that some jokes are not funny because they've heard/seen them before they are new to me.
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Jan 13, 2011
Yeah I couldn't agree more, couldn't wait for it to end and definitely won't be watching the second episode. Why bill Matt Leblanc as the star of the show and give him 45 seconds of airtime in the pilot?



You'd think a show with 7 episodes would be able to incorporate a lot of funny ideas into such a short time frame, as opposed to shows with longer seasons that need to spread their laughs among multiple episodes. This show, in my opinion, is definitely a major disappointment.
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Jan 13, 2011
Definitely the first TV disappointment of 2011. The female lead over acts and is too heavy handed. I did laugh during "julian's" first audition. But this show is rubbish.
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Jan 13, 2011
Major disappointment is getting into the biggest TV site around and see such a dull review, clearly you dont know whats funny coz the laugh track isnt there to tell you when to laugh dude.. The subtle humor, the british people are funny, the network people are so funny destroying theyr show, the network boss is awesome.. Second episode is much better but the first one is really good.
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Jan 12, 2011
Oh man! This is the first classy well acted comedy in ages! How you have missed the whole point of the show. Ive seen both the first and second episode, and i just love it. Yes, it dosent have that enoying machine laughter thingy that goes on after avery stupid remark. It is much more sublte, soft and well thought. Its both so wonderfully funny and disturbing at the same time, it makes you want to laugh but at the same time it makes you hesitate, you dont know if it is appropriate or not. Like the whole scene from where Matt decides he wants the part and he goes all smooth and cunning on them. He plays that so well, and her reaction when he ask if she can act, i had to see that over and over again. The big thing with this comedy is that it is not forcing it self on you, with joke after joke after joke, like most comedies does, almost desperate for approval. It feels so natural and cool. The actors are not archetypes, they feel unusual and exiting. Well i hope you will be able to see it, and i hope the american public will able to appreciate it, but i doubt it.
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Jan 12, 2011
For a Pilot I thought it wasn't that bad. There was some funny moments and it is setting itself up for the rest of the season. This show has enough tools to become a smart funny subtle comedy. After reading Peitzmans Board-Walk Empire review this one makes sense.
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Jan 12, 2011
All I can say is Amen. I thought the premise was good and critics weren't pointing out its weaknesses so I figured this should be a good show. It really fell flat, the worst part of the cast weren't the leads it was the cliche group of network employees. Sandwiched between the revitalized "Californication" and Emmy Rossum's star making vehicle "Shameless" - "Episodes" is really going to have to get better. (Hey Showtime you know what show would have looked even better in that spot, "Party Down".)
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Jan 11, 2011
I didn't find it funny, but for some reason it went by really fast for me, so it might have really good pacing. I'll watch one more episode because at least Matt Leblanc will be in the next (although I feel like the preview ruined everything that happens in that episode). I wont stick around much longer if I don't find the next one funny. Also, why do the British writers think it's a good idea to use the exact same scripts from their UK version? That's just a recipe for disaster. Look at the first episode of the US Office, it's one of the worst episodes.
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Jan 11, 2011
I watched it today, I have to agree it's not exactly funny, and Beverly, the british woman, seems like 10 years older than her husband, not very attractive, but it bother me, is that for the 1st half, she seemed really annoying, her tone of voice, probally, the preview for the next episode, promises a much better episode, even tho, it probally already showed most of the good parts.
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Jan 11, 2011
It seems like most of the comments seem to think that this is a UK show, One of the creators is David Crane, an American. I will admit that first ep of episodes was nothing great but I do think there is some potential here.
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Jan 11, 2011
Also I'm burned from my expectations for "Todd Margaret" (which turned out to be VERY disappointing) and highly doubt I'll enjoy just another show that tells a story from "seven weeks ago" and starts by showing the outcome of it (two of the main actors breaking up and she driving away).
The episode itself is way to slow for my taste -- the double casting scene alone was enough to put me to sleep. That's not suble humor thats just plain boring. Most of the punchlines were to stupid to be funny ("you're on the wrong side").
Another big appointment for me was not seeing Matt LeBlanc anywhere except for 10 seconds in the beginning and in the preview of the next episode.
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Jan 11, 2011
I agree that it wasn't funny (at least for me) and during all episode i was expecting for Matt Leblanc to come and he appeared only in the end so I was upset even if it was well done. But we always say don't judge a book by his cover so I won't judge this show by his pilot... Just wait and see after few episodes...
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Jan 11, 2011
Saw the pilot and it wasn't great. I just wouldn't want you Americans thinking all Brit-comedies are this dull. The original Office is hilarious (better than the US version xP), as are The IT Crowd and Father Ted. So far, Episodes is rather disappointing.
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Jan 11, 2011
did not like it, but will give it one more chance!
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Jan 11, 2011
I enjoyed the first episode of Episodes, but maybe I have realistic expectations for UK sitcoms. It's not a patch on 30Rock or Studio 60 (which was beautifully written), but Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan mean it's worth giving it a chance.
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Jan 11, 2011
I'm not American, but I just didn't find this funny....at all. Hardly a chuckle. And the 'Maybe its because your not British' argument falls flat. I'm unbiased lol, and I didn't laugh once. Its a comedy right? I do however hope Matt LeBlanc has success with this show, he seems like a really nice guy. Just not for me I guess.
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Jan 11, 2011
By the way Studio 60 was brilliant - just pure Sorkin. The SNL-type show was just an excuse: it was the characters that mattered, and the writing that made it unique, turning every episode of a behind-the-scenes look into a comedy show into a tense race against a ticking clock.
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Jan 11, 2011
I though the pilot was pretty good. Maybe a lot of you tuned in for the wrong reason - mainly Matt LeBlanc. But LeBlanc was just an excuse to sell the show to American audiences. The pilot showed that the show is far more Brit than American and it's the British perspective of Hollywood that will be its core. True, misleading. But I found it just as it should be. And for those who don't like the show within a show thing, it's been done before, but why don't you either take it or just not tune in?
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Jan 11, 2011
I don't know why tv producers keep making shows about making a tv show. Most of the public don't get it. Do they really think we want to see a show about how hard their lives are. EF off. They live the lives of Riley, earn HUGE wages, and own enormous houses. Also it shows that they've run out of things to write about so they are reduced to writing about their own lives.

Not interested.
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Jan 11, 2011
@estella87 I'm a big fan of British comedies, I love HGG and I'm not american and yet I agree with the article, Episodes is just not funny not because it's too "english" but because it is simply not well written. I think the other big problem of the pilot is that we haven't seen Matt LeBlanc at all. I'm pretty sure it's gonna get better once he will be here.
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Jan 11, 2011
I'm sorry but this show wasn't funny at all it pretty much sucked, i'm going to give the second episode a chance but if it still sucks then it's coming off my dvr, I could use the space.
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Jan 11, 2011
I loved it. I just think you Americans need other jokes so they simply targeted the wrong audience. You probably wouldn't like Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy either ;)
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Jan 11, 2011
I actually really liked it, it has kind of a The Office feel to it..
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Jan 11, 2011
Yeah, it was disappointing. I really don't like the Lincolns, especially Sean. I can't imagine how so dull family managed to write an award-winning show :)
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Jan 11, 2011
Well the promos killed the freaking show i mean i'v seen all the funny jokes already and i'v seen two of them in the first episode which means the promos ruined 4 of 5 episodes, bad bad promotion strategy ... Matt looks cool with a white head...
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Jan 11, 2011
we knew it's gonna be satire,so what did you all expect
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Jan 11, 2011
disappointing
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Jan 11, 2011
The pilot was awful! Episode 2 was a huge improvement. I'll wait for the 3rd episode and make up my mind, but so far is not that good.
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Jan 11, 2011
I Couldn't Agree More, I wanted to Like this show, I went into it with a positive attitude and walked away wondering why Californication wasent just extended to an hour long.
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Jan 11, 2011
i only tunes in cuz of Matt LeBlanc.... the rest was not that good!!!!
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Jan 11, 2011
Haven't seen Episodes, but don't bash Studio 60 on the... it was not primarily a comedy, it was a character study, and it was superb.
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Jan 11, 2011
It was epic. The thing about this show is though that it features very very British humor, something that not everyone knows how to feel about. It has perhaps been made for the wrong demographic, that I admit.
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Jan 11, 2011
I watched this because of Matt. When it was done I felt like taking a crap on it.
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Jan 11, 2011
One of the worst shows seen so far! I like Matt Leblanc and he wasn’t even on the show for more than a minute. The English people were so annoying! They were like the Julius character, not liked! I won’t watch it!!
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Jan 11, 2011
Studio 60 was great, and the show-within-a-show pretty much seemed on-level with Saturday Night Live. This... I'll keep watching, I didn't find it amusing either, and Beverly kind of annoyed me. Here's hoping adding Matt LeBlanc will make things better.
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Jan 11, 2011
I gave up after 10mins to redo the grouting in my bathroom, which I found much more amusing.
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Jan 11, 2011
I liked Studio 60 although it was a show more for writers than anyone else. It likely would have lasted longer had 30 Rock, which was a sitcom version of the same show, not been doing better. I did find the first episode of Episodes dull and not interesting enough to bother with later episodes, although I wouldn't say I hated it. But I suspect this is a show that will take a few episodes to straighten itself out.
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Jan 11, 2011
I won't give up on the show yet since Matt LeBlanc was only on for like 3 out of the 30 minutes that the pilot ran so I'll definitely watch episode two. In fact I just found it online and I'm downloading it right now ;P
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Jan 11, 2011
This website was one of the sites hyping up Episodes and when I watched it I couldn't help but be disappointed. I have no intentions of watching episode 2.
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Jan 11, 2011
Yeah, I didn't like the pilot that much. I thought they could have started out the series with a better episode. However, it did have me interested enough that I went on to watch the second episode (leaked online, I guess).
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Jan 11, 2011
I agree with everything you said except Richard Griffiths. I thought his scene was the only funny one in the whole episode.
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Jan 11, 2011
I think many people tuned in purely because of Matt LeBlanc since he was that awesome guy named Joey in Friends. He wasn't really present in pilot which might be a turn-off right there, but I didn't mind it. They laid down the story, introduced us to a few characters and that's that. Judging a whole show solely on pilot is silly. I'll give it a few more episodes and if it goes downhill then I'm done with it.
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