At this point, those committed “Episodes” have surely engaged in a bit of bargaining, accepting that the show’s central proposition no longer makes any sense, but that it can still be fun strictly in its jaundiced view of Hollywood. All that was clearly evident in Sunday’s season finale, which ratcheted up the wackiness. Granted, series about the media tend to yield ancillary benefits to pay cable networks, which helps explain why the program has become Showtime’s version of “Entourage,” even if it requires ample goodwill on the audience’s part to ignore the star-trailer-sized lapses in logic.
This season did receive a bit of a boost from the addition of Andrea Savage as Helen, the new network chief who fell into a relationship with Carol (Kathleen Rose Perkins), who continued a long streak of sleeping with her bosses. Meanwhile, writers David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik introduced financial problems for Matt LeBlanc’s twisted version of himself, to the point where he grudgingly agreed to host an idiotic gameshow, reuniting him, uncomfortably, with former network boss Merc (John Pankow).
Finally, there’s the writing tandem of Sean and Beverly (Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig), who have consistently proven themselves to be slow learners, having spent several years in Hollywood and still managing to be constantly surprised when people lie, obfuscate and generally behave in venal and self-serving ways.
So it was with the finale (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched), which found Matt and Merc getting into a physical altercation on the set of the gameshow, Helen behaving jealously toward Beverly because of her friendship with Carol and, finally, Helen saddling the pair with Sean’s former partner Tim (Bruce MacKinnon) as retribution.
LeBlanc has always played the role with image-spoofing gusto, including just how distorting one’s view of life becomes with all that “Friends” syndication money in the bank.
What “Episodes” has never satisfactorily answered, since the first season, is why Sean and Beverly wouldn’t simply take their “created by” credit and run, fleeing back to the England they miss so desperately, where presumably they could return to popping out little gem-like comedies that only need to deliver six episodes. The series has also become a tad repetitive in its industry-oriented gags, to the point where even people who enjoy hiking in Runyon Canyon are probably getting tired of seeing it.
That might sound like quibbling, but a show like this – even a satire – draws strength from a foundation in reality, and not just as a come-on to those with insider knowledge. And it’s too bad, since Crane and Klarik obviously have a good feel for the material and approach the series as a genuine comedy – a stark contrast from HBO’s current half-hour Sunday lineup, for example, where the shows might be dubbed comedies but (excluding John Oliver) can go weeks without delivering a laugh.
For all that, the finale did set up a couple of obvious conflicts to carry into a fifth season, which is about all one can expect from a construct this slim. In that regard, that closing nod to production company Hat Trick is oddly appropriate, since the writers have to keep plumbing their sleeves and producing rabbits to keep this act going.
For fans eager to embrace the show on its terms, that’s probably enough. But having watched Sean and Beverly gripe and groan for this long it seems overdue from the duo to emulate some early British visitors to America by waving a white flag and sailing home.