Thursday 13 January 2011


So, Episodes.

Let's begin with the caveats. Let's bear in mind that my opinion doesn't matter to anyone; I'm an inexperienced comedy writer compared to the stupidly experienced David Crane who co-writes Episodes; I've read no reviews of Episodes and have no idea if it's already deemed a hit or a smash, so my opinion may be way off those of others, or blandly the same. My instinct is that critics will broadly be in favour of Episodes because it's about the media and they love self-parodying, industry stuff, even though most TV audiences show themselves to be consistently uninterested in this kind of thing. There. Caveats done. (and yes, 'caveat' is 3rd person present iussive subjunctive, and yes, I do have an A-Level in Latin and yes, I am keen to use it.)

Let us recall that scene in Seinfeld when Jerry and George pitch the idea for the show. George says it's about nothing. And the exec says one of those incredibly annoying things that execs say which is 'Why am I watching this show?' George tersely replies, 'Because it's on TV', implying that people will watch whatever's on.

Except George is wrong. And, it pains me to say, the exec is kind of right. "Why am I watching this show?" is one of those annoying questions to ask, but there's something in it.

And so I ask myself the question, Why am I watching Episodes? Well, I'm watching it because it's new, so I ought to watch it. It's written by one of the creators of Friends and bunch of other things. It's got Stephan Mangan and Tamsin Grieg in it - what's not to like? And, most of all, it's sort of about my job. There are four or five reasons right there.

And I'm glad I watched it. The performances were good. There were some jokes that made me laugh out loud. And before I had looked at my watch, it ended, which is a good sign.

But am I going to keep watching it? Am I excited about watching it again next week?

I have mentioned William Goldman's The Year of the Comet before on this blog. It was, apparently, the next screenplay he wrote after Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Goldman knows how to write a really decent movie. And yet, he wrote The Year of the Comet, which vanished without trace. Why? Because nobody cared. Why did nobody care? Because it's a romantic comedy about a couple who are trying to track down a bottle of wine. Seriously. The trailer for it is here: (sorry if there's another ad first)

YEAR OF THE COMET: Movie Trailer. Watch more top selected videos about: Movie Trailers, Year of the Comet

Have you seen the trailer? Doesn't it look dreadful? 'From the writer of The Princess Bride and Butch Cassidy' says the voiceover... William Goldman laughs about it now. He writes about it in his excellent and compulsory follow-up to Adventures in the Screen Trade called Which Lie did I Tell? But the point is this: Who cares about a couple who's quest is a valuable bottle of wine? Could we be made to care about them? Maybe. Do we? No. And I think this is my main problem with Episodes. I don't really care. And that makes a big difference.

Caring about these people is going to be a tall order, since this is a sitcom about wealthy successful people, who are about to have mildly annoying things done to them buy even wealthier more successful people. And the problem is what I'm really meant to care about is an abstract sitcom. This sitcom of theirs is set in a boarding school and Richard Griffiths is in it. It's won some awards. That's all I know about it. I don't get any sense that this is a prized and loved thing that I should care about. This sitcom should be their baby. It should be a part of them. Changes to it should be excruciating. But I don't quite buy that the characters really care about their baby all that much.

Maybe their sitcom should be based on themselves in some way - about a married couple - or some personal experience - and therefore tampering with it causes serious personal trauma and pain, and a clash in their relationship. The cabbie who took them home from the BAFTAs could have quoted a line or a catchphrase from the show or something. Please, just make me care about the things the characters care about. Otherwise, all they're going to do is walk away quite wealthy and slightly tanned from a failed american sitcom.

I'm sure I shall watch next week - but partly because I want to know more about the original show of theirs, just like I've always wanted to see Ricky Gervais write a whole episode of When The Whistle Blows. Writing comedy about the comedy industry is one thing. Writing a character-based sitcom for a mainstream studio audience is another. Crane can obviously do that. His awards and record prove that. He probably has two personal assistants, three homes and four yachts to prove that. This is not a bad show at all. I laughed along, and it was easy to enjoy. But I don't love it. Yet.


  1. Love the blog. When I saw the title I thought you were going to tackle something I have never quite understood. Why do American shows (not only sitcoms) tend to make 12 - 24 episodes per season but British ones tend to make only 6 - 12? Although I'm sure you can find notable exceptions you do seem to get more episodes per seas from the yanks.

  2. I want to love it for some similar reasons to you. I didn't. I think because the writers and producers took a punt.
    Audaciously, they spent first episodes laying out of the their wares, doing the sit bit of the com. I didn't see much com.
    Look, its Lovely Brilliant British comedy actors! Look what they are up against! (Americans - aren't some of them awful? Look at them being nasty to Our British National Treasure). But aren't our heroes grounded and fun! And look they are in Hollywood - it's going to be glamourous? Ooh Look, the funny one from Friends is going to be in it next week....
    It is going to get better.
    (I wasn't that impressed with the first episode of Ally MacBeal, and look at me now)

  3. writer in the states, fellow sitcom geek and fan of your site. thanks and keep the insights coming.

  4. I agree. The main problem is Greig and Mangan seemed more naive than sympathetic.

  5. one of the problems was indeed that the scene from the audition wasn't funny at all. although everybody in the audition did laugh at it, so it ought to be funny. how am I supposed to believe that there is a true sitcom gem at stake, if it isn't the least bit funny? I don't care for 'lyman's boys', and yes, that could ruin the show.

  6. I know you haven't seen any other coverage, but you should read this, James makes a very interesting correlatory point.

    Rob D

  7. I was linked here via Twitter after I commented on exactly the same thing! I love the show but the only absence is the total lack of warmth in relation to the characters. The sitcom they're creating should be personal to them and it would therefore generate sympathy from us as viewers as we watch something so uniquely personal get destroyed by the tragedy of American commercialism. The sitcom they're creating is about elitist ideals and is so far removed from the mainstream and so unrelatable that it alienates rather than involves. I love the cast, I love the concept and I love a lot of the humour; but it feels strangely distant and uninvolved...

  8. I've been eagerly awaiting Episodes to start airing and I think you make some valid points but for me, I really dig it.

    I love NBC's Community but my buddy hates it and dig Not Going Out instead. Both make someone laugh but is one better than the other? Personally I think there should always be a spectrum of options available for everyone to enjoy.

    Dig the blog btw - I look forward to reading more.