The second series of Episodes starts tonight and I'm intrigued to see if any changes will be made. I enjoyed the first series, which was a promising one, but it was also frustrating as it never quite scaled the heights that it kept threatening to achieve. Although as the people behind the show are tv comedy veterans, I wonder if the show did exactly what it was intended to do, so the second series won't provide more focus on the bits that worked and instead will be pretty much the same as the first. Being contrary to expectations did appear to be the main focus of a show that started by deliberately adopting the worst possible title for Google searching.
The premise behind the show is a good one with plenty of material for humour, if anyone wants to use it. A couple, played by Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig, write a successful British sitcom that gets bought by an American studio that then hires them to write a new pilot in Hollywood. So, producers and writers and focus groups get their claws into the format. Within days Matt LeBlanc is hired to play the aged, overweight school-teacher previously portrayed by Richard Griffiths and bit by bit every single element that made the British sitcom good is removed to leave a program that bears no resemblance to the original.
Obviously this process has happened for real, such as Red Dwarf which generated a female cat, a hunky Rimmer and a non-smeggy version of Lister. Or Men Behaving Badly with Gary and Tony being executives living in a spacious apartment with glamorous girlfriends and who on no account ever behave badly. But the final punchline to this process is that despite a few groan-inducing failures, nine times of out ten the US produce sitcoms that are funnier than UK ones. So a UK / US co-production with this premise can mine plenty of cross Atlantic, culture clash humour about the differing approaches, except strangely it didn't.
Aside from a brief chat about American sitcoms needing to create a premise that'll work for 200 episodes while UK ones only need to cope with about 20 episodes, there's little focus on the actual mechanics of writing. There's a running gag involving a terrible producer doing terrible British accents and making terrible decisions, and quite a bit of time is wasted poking fun at Hollywood excesses, which is a subject that doesn’t travel well. But for the most part the show is a warm drama in which the three leads either bond or argue, and the best comedy comes from Matt either living up to his Joey 'how you doing?' image or playing against it. Taken as light drama with some mildly funny character exchanges played out in awkward situations created by crass and insensitive people, the show works much better than as the sitcom about a sitcom it's billed to be.
Series 2 continues the story after the pilot, against all expectations and justice, has been aceepted for a full run and, with the show already having burnt its bridges (and the stated rules for the sitcom within a sitcom) by resolving the will they / won't they aspect of the story, it'll be interesting to see where they take it.