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Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Episodes (BBC)

It's a strange old beast, is Episodes. It has a "feel" to it that sets it apart from most other comedies on the box at the moment. It's very funny, pretty interesting and filled to the brim with excellent performances, not least by Matt LeBlanc - but it seems to be slipping below many people's radar. 

Telling the tale of the compromises that need to be made when adapting a smash-hit British TV series for American network television - from the inside (something that many screenwriters have cited as being scarily accurate) -  Episodes stars Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig as a British screen-writer couple forced to bend over for the yanks. 

Matt LeBlanc plays himself as the new star of the adapted series - replacing Richard Griffiths as the lead in the American version - and really it's Matt's performance that goes a long, long way to making this show so much fun. Stacked storeys high with bad language and sarcastic 'Brits in America' situations, Episodes really bridges the gap between British sit-com and American studio-com in a way that no other show has before - in my opinion. Fusing together the cringe-humour of the likes of The Office and Extras with the glossy laugh-inducers of Friends and Seinfeld, the show makes for often uncomfortable, but never unpleasant viewing.

It takes an episode to kick in properly. The opener is - again, in my opinion - the weakest of the four episodes we've been given so far. But since there's an arc set in place even before the credits roll on episode one (indeed, the ending is more or less laid out for the series in advance, with the rest of the shows taking place in a sort of flashback) there's a real sense of journey to this piece. Even when some of the jokes hit a little lower than Network Telly usually would in the States, or the bad language shocks you into realising you're not watching a glossy laugh-on-cue clone that so many American comedies are these days, the show never feels like "a British sit-com set in America", which it isn't really, anyway. It has gigantic charm and the episodes fly by fast enough to leave you wanting more. For my money, this is well worth digging out if you haven't already seen it.