Episodes, “Episode Two”

I was very critical of the Episodes pilot. I hated it. HATED it. But you go back to that review, you’ll see that I said I really, really wanted to like Episodes. It has a great, promising concept that should lead to some compelling television. Unfortunately, the pilot was not compelling, mostly because it tried too hard to be biting and attacking towards Hollywood.

That is why I feel completely comfortable saying this: “Episode Two” is a vastly marked improvement. Vast. With this effort, Episodes shows some signs of life that suggests the critics who are praising it as some sort of innovative comedy might not be unbelievably insane.

Here’s the thing about Episodes‘ second effort: It’s not funny at all. But thankfully, it doesn’t really try to be. Or at least I hope it’s not trying to be. In any event, this episode succeeds because it spends a lot more time developing the relationships between the three lead characters instead of trying to make big, sweeping generalizations about the state of Hollywood. Sure, there’s still a good amount of stereotypical jokes at the expense of Hollywood and its power players, but that stuff takes a back seat here so that Sean and Beverly can become both infinitely more likable and also more flawed, but in a good way.

There was a sense in the first episode that these two characters who have apparently been together for a long time could be pulled apart by the littlest thing. Part of it had to do with the terrible in media res open, but the rest of the pilot did enough to prove that Sean and Beverly were naive, gullible twits who would be totally destroyed by what Hollywood had to offer. But here, a lot of that is gone. “Episode Two” still ends with them at each other throats due to what’s happened with Merc and Matt LeBlanc (who does a nice job in his introductory episode), but this episode lets that conflict build in a fairly natural way. They start the episode completely unified and together, both in their careers and their personal relationship and once they get separated at a party, it’s all downhill. Sean and Beverly still come off as easily persuaded, but at least here the people doing the persuading actually seem good at it.

More importantly, the conflicts within this episode are laid out much, much better. Sean and Beverly don’t want Matt LeBlanc, but they’re convinced that he actually wants to do the series. Of course, Matt LeBlanc doesn’t really want to do the series, but he’s convinced by his agent that the Lincolns really want him and also, there’s a lot of money involved. But LeBlanc doesn’t just want the money because he’s an egotistical Hollywood drone, he actually wants to open a restaurant (hey, it’s something). From there, the three get matched up together and on this road to production of the series even though neither of them really wants any part of the other — thanks to studio manipulation. Cunning persuasion and slightly manipulation is much better and more believable from the Hollywood folks. There’s nothing here as painful as the audition sequence or the constant OH MY GOD looks the Lincolns gave to Merc and the team last week.

Similarly, the “dangers of Hollywood” bits are also better executed here. Instead of stupid soaker bathtubs, massive mansions and luxurious cars, Sean and Beverly are charmed by intelligent people who pretend to tell them the truth. Beverly connects with LeBlanc when he actually takes the time to figure out what their show is about and starts talking honestly about his kids and his personal life. And Sean gets a bit caught up in Carol’s goofball (read: stupid) optimism. But just as they start getting comfortable, it all unravels. LeBlanc appears to have buttered Beverly up with the intentions of changing the lead character to a coach and before they know it Merc loves the idea and Carol backs him up because they’re most likely still sleeping together.

Thus, Sean and Beverly discover that the only thing that’s going to keep them strong throughout this awful process is sticking together. Even the slightest bit of wavering and things can go from bad to worse very, very quickly.

This is the kind of program I’d like Episodes to be. It doesn’t have to overly funny, it just has to tell a compelling story about how these two are going to be pulled apart by the Hollywood machine. This episode works a lot better because it doesn’t try to present a satirical look at Hollywood, it just shows us a way how it works. No frills, no jokes, just persuasion and a few bits of manipulation go a long way. If Episodes can work in a bit of less obvious jokes to go along with this more straight-ahead sadness, I’m in. Just no more of the stupid guard. Please.


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