Writing a comedy about comedy writing

episodesWriting comedy is hard.   I’ve tried it.  So to try to squeeze comedy out of the plight of writers writing a sitcom would seem to be a case of writerly navel-gazing at its worst.

Thank heavens, then, for Episodes (BBC-2) which, having reached its fourth series, seems finally to be getting the attention it deserves.  Annoyingly, like someone who claims to have seen The Beatles in The Cavern in 1962, I have been a fan of this show since the first episode.  Honestly.  But I’ve spent the last three years enthusing about it to blank faces.

The “sit” is this: Beverley and Sean (played by Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan) are a married British couple whose gentle, thoughtful, witty Britcom has been bought by a Hollywood studio.  The studio then proceeds to rip it to shreds and remake it, replacing Richard Griffiths (he was in series 1) with Matt Le Blanc of Friends fame.

But that was series 1.  It has now matured into a comedy about the insincerity and venality of the TV business and has gone from being pretty funny to usually hilarious, never more so than in the scenes with Le Blanc who plays a priapic, amoral version of himself, frustrated at being in a show that’s much less successful than Friends.  He picked up a Golden Globe in 2012 for his performance.

It’s a weird US/UK hybrid.  It’s co-written by David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik (Crane co-wrote Friends) and made by Hat Trick Productions of the UK.  It’s shot mainly in the UK (Camden in London apparently doubling for Las Vegas in one episode.  I know, I know…) but goes out first on Showtime in the US.

Anyway, it’s very funny and available on Netflix, and last night I properly LOL’d and was still chuckling as I got into bed at this scene.  Episodes Series 4, ep. 5 Matt,  so cash-strapped after being ripped off by his late accountant that he might have to consider selling his vineyard, accepts $500,000 to attend the birthday party of the world’s second-most-murderous dictator who is a huge fan of Friends.  Once there he bumps into an unlikely fellow guest…

(The answer to the above puzzle: turn it upside down!)

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