Episodes TV review: those Hollywood types might irritate us but we secretly love them

The audience is king as Matt LeBlanc and Co play it for laughs on both sides of the Atlantic

There are two types of men: men like Merc Lapidus, recently fired boss of the US television network behind Pucks!, who will scramble over a security fence in the pouring rain, still dressed in last night's award ceremony suit, in order to fight for his wife (blonde, blind, luminous), currently snug in the bed of a television star of the wattage of Matt LeBlanc. And then there's the other sort, the sort who is Matt LeBlanc, who mimes having sex with your wife in front of you as you splutter in the rain and beg her to forgive you. "OK, I can feel the breeze from your Charades," the wife says frustratedly to Matt after a few seconds of his air-thrusting. "Sorry," he replies slightly sheepishly. And I laugh. Because the whole sequence is unsophisticated but funny, combining the best of this version of Matt LeBlanc – "Matt LeBlanc", if you will – who is sex-obsessed, often childish and pretty shallow, with his most famous character, Joey Tribbiani (sex-obsessed, often childish and pretty shallow).

A hearty welcome back for Episodes (BBC2), then, in which we laugh at navel-gazing Hollywood types, even as we are irritated by them. I came to this third series as a bit of a fangirl – and may have the distinction of being the only non-cast or crew member to punch the air when it was renewed – and I remain a fan after this first episode.

Returning to navigate this world of unabashed self-obsession are Beverly and Sean, good and sensible and British – and now back together again. "Definitely not a shithole," says Sean, approvingly, when he comes to Bev's home-away-from-their-old-home. There follows the small matter of beds and who's been sleeping in them ("Well, you know what they say, 'Fresh start, fresh sheets,'" trills Bev, as they attempt conjugal sexual congress. "No one says that. Laundresses don't say that," Sean replies, bemused).

The comedy is broader, for sure. Take, for example, the scene where Carol, Merc's former right-hand woman and now the person in line for his job, lingers in the empty shell that used to be his office, having only moments before witnessed his name being painted over on his parking space. She stands staring into the middle distance while a montage of memories assaults her (cheesy soundtrack included). You can see the joke that's coming: the romantic scenes of kissing and her doing up his tie give way abruptly to Merc placing her hand on his crotch, and eventually her hugging him while he's sitting on the toilet with his trousers round his ankles. But it doesn't dim the pleasure of the payoff, in which she audibly chokes back sobs and wipes a tear like it was the grandest romance since Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

The same goes for a scene where Sean admonishes Matt while helping him compose an email that will mollify his ex-wife and allow him to see their sons. "You're right," he tells Sean after receiving a lecture on his self-sabotaging behaviour. Looking gravely in his dressing room mirror, Matt nods. "OK, I'll get help." There's a beat. "You're not going to get help, are you?" "Nah," comes the reply. Simple pleasures.

But then, how could it not be at least a little broad? For all of Episodes' BBC pedigree – never forget that Tamsin Greig is also one Debbie Aldridge of Ambridge – this show is a collaboration with US cable network Showtime, and the audience is king. And if the audience wants scenes where Matt LeBlanc tries to talk his way out of a DUI ticket by trading on a character he last played eight years ago, well, that's what the audience is going to get. Pretending to remember the cop's sister, who apparently played a nurse in a single Friends episode (The One Where Rachel Has a Baby, FYI), was oddly touching, though. Yes, it was in the interest of getting off with only a slap on the wrist, but one hopes the real LeBlanc might lie to a fan just as charmingly.

The show is not any poorer for its broadness, of course. It's just … less British. And that's fine. We're still covered for that sort of thing, thanks largely to the superb "face work" of – it has to be said – the female cast members. Greig is reliable as always, and continues to be the show's (relatively) moral core. Daisy Haggard was only onscreen for a few precious minutes but I'm pretty confident that whatever they are paying her is not enough. As Myra, her wordless but utterly eloquent groans are rivalled only by another fictional TV character, Tina Belcher of Bob's Burgers (formerly of Channel 4). She is the queen of gurns, pushing her few lines out of a larynx that sounds like it came out on the losing side of a bar fight. In the parlance of Friends, she out-Janices Janice for nasal whine.

As for poor Carol (Kathleen Rose Perkins), cruelly robbed of the job that was rightfully hers, I have only admiration and affection. The dignity on display during the bad news phone call was largely conveyed with just her eyes. Between that and her advice to Bev to "lie the shit out of this" regarding her recent liaison with hot Rob, I feel she could become my new life role model.


Bim Adewunmi

The GuardianTramp

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