Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Where's Matt?

I wrote a few days ago about how I was looking forward to seeing Episodes, the new comedy from David Crane (Friends) and Jeffrey Klarik (Mad About You). Last night we got to see the first Episode in the UK, it was shown the previous night in the US.
My wife caught it before me and made a report before I sat down to watch. Her mouth made that wavy line you see on cartoon characters when all is not well.
"Really?", I asked.
"Really", she said.
Hmm, she still has her Christmas cold, I told myself. Maybe her funny wasn't working.

I've seen it now and so far wry smiles, no belly laughs, not the wavy-line mouth but then I'm in the trenches, Mrs Lewis is a civilian. If you live in the TV world any show on the subject will draw you in but how much is there for people outside the industry? That's why programme commissioners don't like fictional TV shows about TV. The Larry Sanders Show was a work of rare genius and even that was only watched by eleven people in the UK. But I'm an optimist and I truly want new comedies to succeed. Here's hoping for better in future Episodes. I live by the maxim: never, ever, ever judge a comedy by its pilot.
Don't get me wrong, it was amusing. It had nice pictures, solid performances, Richard Griffith very amusing, very funny gag about filling an enormous bath and I really like Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig but something wasn't right. Was it the rhythms? American lines in British mouths don't always sit well. Maybe.

I think there was a structural problem. 

Watching an interview with the writers they state, "At the heart of the show is the relationship between John and Beverley (Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig) and Matt LeBlanc". This is their golden triangle, to reiterate: the heart of the show.

Let's just think about that a moment. The heart. What is a heart? Come on, humour me. Boy at the back, "It's a pump". Correct. In the human body the heart pumps the blood around, if the heart stops or if there's  problem with it,  the body doesn't work properly or it dies. Thank you. Class dismissed.

But in the first Episode part of the heart is missing. In setting up the story of how two BAFTA winning writers are lured to the States to make an American version of their hit British show, only to have their avuncular lead character, hitherto played by Richard Griffith, replaced by Matt LeBlanc, there is no Matt LeBlanc (I'm disregarding 30 seconds at the top of the show before it flashes back). Yes, there is mention of him, he's the punchline to the show, but he's not actually, properly in it.
I know it's the pilot, I know they are setting up their world but consider this; no Niles in the pilot of Frasier, no Hawkeye in episode one of MASH, or Dexter in Dexter. How about no Joey in the pilot of Friends. Would David Crane have said, "We have this really funny other Friend who comes in in episode two" no.

If the heartbeat of the show is based on three characters why were the three characters not all there in Episode one? I may not judge a show by its pilot but a lot of people do. It doesn't matter who you are or what your track record is, we all make mistakes but why did no-one say, hang on, where's Matt?

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