Seven years ago, with more than a decade of success on NBC sitcoms like “Mad About You” and “Friends” between them, David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik stepped away from broadcast television to write and produce “Episodes” for Showtime. It was a time when the industry looked very different. For one thing, many producers still saw cable as the “wild west,” and while streaming platforms were not as prevalent, social media-based originals did not exist at all. And as “Episodes”— a show centered on fictional writers adapting their British television comedy for the U.S. — went on, the industry side of their stories couldn’t ignore the way the business was changing.
Over the seasons they satirized everything from a network executive who wants to remove the “when” from television viewing — not realizing themselves just how true that would become — to a once highly-sought after actor moving from scripted work to game show hosting. Though Crane and Klarik know there will always be moments where they read something in the trades that makes them say, “Oh my God, that’s an episode,” they are flipping off the lights on “Episodes'” version of Tinseltown, with the fifth and final season premiering on Showtime on August 20.
“Always leave people wanting more!” Crane tells Variety of the decision to end the show. “There’s a sort of bittersweet element for us because we love the show, but it seemed like ‘Let’s go before someone wants us to go,’ and it seemed like we told the story we needed to tell and we had an opportunity to put a bow on it.”
Crane and Klarik also admit that uprooting their lives to shoot the show in England for so long proved more taxing than glamorous, too. The desire to get back to normalcy has been calling the writing and life partners, though it may prove to be more short-lived than they hoped. In a meta turn that seems ripped from the pages of one of their own scripts, Crane shares with Variety that they recently traveled back to London to meet with a company that wants to turn “The Box” — the fictional game show-within-the-show that the character of Matt (Matt LeBlanc) hosts — into a real show.
“We never could have guessed how the industry would change seven years ago when we were first starting out with this show,” Crane says. “There were things we did that we thought were satire at the time that turned out to become very real not long after. Maybe we were ahead of our time!”
In many ways, the fourth season finale of “Episodes” could have served as a series finale on its own when it aired over two years ago. As Klarik puts it: “We blew everything up!” Sean (Stephen Mangan) and Beverly (Tamsin Greig) were no longer writing the show that brought them out to Los Angeles and into Matt’s inner circle in the first place; Matt himself was no longer a sitcom actor; and fan favorite Carol (Kathleen Rose Perkins) left her network job after yet another bad relationship and another missed opportunity to become the head of the network. “We had all of our characters split off in different directions, so the real challenge of crafting the final season was how to get everybody back together,” Klarik says.
One of the ways Crane and Klarik pull it off in the final season is by putting Sean and Beverly on another show for the network, while Matt, who is still hosting the game show, tries to convince them to work with him again. “This is the first season Sean and Beverly are in the writers room. When they were doing ‘Pucks’ they were pretty much on their own, but now they’re thrown in with a bunch of people they don’t know and at the behest of [Sean’s former writing partner] Tim (Bruce Mackinnon),” Klarik says. “We’ve had a bunch of fun at the expense of networks, and this season we have some fun with writers and producers.”
And of course they have some fun with LeBlanc as well, who kicks off the season by going viral for all the wrong reasons. “He’s led a fairly charmed life, and he knows that he can turn on the Matt LeBlanc charm and get what he wants. That changes a person’s outlook on things. He’s so used to coming out on top,” Klarik says of the character. “He can be manipulative in order to keep getting what he wants, but there are some things this season that will take even him by surprise.”
He’s not the only character facing big changes this season, say the creators. “Obviously the overarching theme is what Hollywood does to Sean and Beverly — and what Matt does to Sean and Beverly — and it was fun this season finding some new ways that they could ruin their lives,” Crane says. “We’ve taken Sean and Beverly and Matt on a real journey together, so in the final season we were certainly looking to top the previous seasons and do it in a really satisfying way.”
And it is those characters — and the actors who embody them — that Crane and Klarik are saddest to leave behind. “We were so lucky that everything came together with the cast. It’s sort of scary to go back out there and start again with something new because what are the odds of getting the chemistry that we found with Kathleen and Tamsin Greig and with Matt and Stephen?” says Crane. “It’s just so fortunate to have that.”
The final season of “Episodes” premieres on Showtime August 20 at 10pm.