Update: A representative for Showtime has confirmed that due to its summer airdate, Episodes was not eligible for this year’s Emmy Awards. Therefore, please take this article as an official endorsement for what show should be leading next year’s nominations. And don’t forget to catch Episodes on Showtime on Sundays at 10:30 ET/PT!
This article was co-written by Gina Zelko.
Last Thursday, the nominations for the 64th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards were announced. Not surprisingly, the list of nominees was dominated by favorites and past-winners such as Mad Men and Modern Family. And while the list did include a variety of new shows (i.e. Girls, The New Girl, American Horror Story), glaringly absent was the hilariously brilliant Showtime series, Episodes.
Episodes follows Beverly and Sean Lincoln, a British screenwriting couple who are brought to Los Angeles to oversee an American remake of the show that made them stars in their homeland. Upon their arrival, however, they’re quickly overwhelmed by the extremities and politics of Hollywood. Suddenly, the duo find themselves creating a series completely unrecognizable from its predecessor – starting with its lead actor, Friends’ Matt LeBlanc (playing an asshole-enhanced version of himself).
In Beverly and Sean’s original show, LeBlanc’s character was played by an elderly British headmaster at a private school. But in the American incarnation, he is a dumbed-down middle-aged high school hockey coach with “Joey”-esque goofiness largely defined by his libido and sarcastic quips. And it’s all downhill from there.
While it is a comedy, Episodes is a remarkably dark show that closely scrutinizes Hollywood by brutally depicting the inevitable casualties it inflicts. Serving as the show’s antagonist, Hollywood desecrates its players by stripping them of their principles, integrity and relationships.
When Beverly and Sean first arrive, they’re wowed by the luxuries of Tinseltown. But as they become more accustomed to their new setting, they feel increasingly detached from its egotistical values as they lose more and more control of their show – and subsequently, their marriage.
What starts out as a seemingly harmless bromance between Sean and LeBlanc transforms into the catalyst for a vicious cycle of betrayal and moral corruption. All of a sudden, Beverly and Sean fall victim to the Hollywood lifestyles they so adamantly rejected.
After LeBlanc hints to Sean that he may have caught the eye of their series’ lead actress, Morning Randolph, Beverly becomes increasingly paranoid about the pair’s relationship. As a result, she starts to distrust her previously infallible husband. Her paranoia (not aided by the fact that she walks in on him “wanking it” to Morning’s infamous sex tape) causes her to lose sight of their relationship and as an act of revenge, she does the unthinkable. She sleeps with the man she detests the most: LeBlanc.
But relationships are not the only checkmarks on the show’s hit list. What distinguishes Episodes from so much of its competition is its unapologetic spotlight on the dark side of the Hollywood mirror. And what better spokesperson is there to really drive this biting message home than the star of one of the most beloved shows in American television history?
LeBlanc is a perfect representation of Episodes’ thesis. A total sleaze, he’s a product of the fame and success of his former sitcom glory (i.e. his garage full of “Joey” branded cologne or the Friends cast bobblehead dolls in his dressing room). The luxuries and lifestyle afforded to him by being Joey have completely skewed his perspective of the world. LeBlanc doesn’t understand what it means to be a friend (pun intended), feels entitled to whatever he pleases (including multiple peoples’ wives), and uses sex as a form of self-validation. All of his actions are completely self-serving, making him a totally unredeemable character. And yet, despite the fact that he does not have the ability to empathize, the audience of Episodes can’t help but empathize with him. Because as the prey of Hollywood, LeBlanc doesn’t realize his flaws. He doesn’t act in the deplorable ways he does because he’s malicious. His behavior is simply a result of him genuinely not knowing any better.
In addition to dissecting the impact Hollywood life has on its cast, Episodes also serves as a commentary on what we value in contemporary pop culture. It makes the argument that America would rather use art as a mindless form of escapism than as a tool to challenge and better ourselves (i.e. the depiction of a sitcom about a talking dog who makes butt-sniffing jokes as the biggest hit standing in the way of making Beverly and Sean’s show a success).
Episodes stresses the idea that once an art form defies its social expectations, it becomes shocking and in turn, audiences become uncomfortable. Thus, the mainstream product we see keep getting churned out on our television screens is largely safe, shallow and often repetitious – hence all of the radical changes made to Beverly and Sean’s original show to make it more commercially viable this side of the Atlantic.
If this idea is true, it’s no surprise that Episodes was left off the Emmy nominations list this year. Its stance against Hollywood and parody of the slapstick, lowbrow humor we choose to indulge in would make the show stick out like a sore thumb amongst competitors like Two And A Half Men or Mike & Molly. Recognizing it would mean Emmy voters would be indirectly acknowledging the show’s message – a move that would do far more harm than good from a business standpoint. This ironically only strengthens Episodes’ idea that quality is not the dominant priority in Hollywood.
Let’s hope that next year, the Emmy’s will be willing to give credit to more original, thought-provoking content rather than just playing it safe with predictable favorites. But then again, what better way do the award voters have of supporting Episodes than by snubbing it entirely?
Episodes airs on Showtime on Sundays at 10:30 PM (ET/PT).