'Episodes' review: Matt LeBlanc's a star

Tamsin Grieg as Beverly Lincoln, Matt LeBlanc as

Tamsin Grieg as Beverly Lincoln, Matt LeBlanc as himself, and Stephen Mangan as Sean Lincoln in "Episodes". LeBlanc is nominated for lead actor in a comedy series. (Credit: Showtime)

THE SHOW "Episodes," 10:30 p.m. Sunday on Showtime

CATCHING UP/WHAT IT'S ABOUT A lovely English couple, talented in the craft of TV writing, are lured to these shores to adapt their Britcom to American tastes. Sunday night, the results. Last season, "Episodes" -- aka Matt LeBlanc finally gets the respect he deserves -- took this fish-out-of-water couple, Sean (Stephen Mangan) and Beverly (Tamsin Greig) Lincoln, to Hollywood, where they met the real LeBlanc, who was cast in the new show, titled "Pucks!" But in a moment of ill-advised passion, Beverly and Matt ended up in bed together. The marriage now appears over, but the show must go on. And Sunday, it does. At the pilot screening, network entertainment chief Merc Lapidus (John Pankow, "Mad About You") is rapturous about his new show; his wife, Jamie (Genevieve O'Reilly), is rapturous, too -- but not over the show. Critics, meanwhile, are not quite as complimentary about "Pucks." And LeBlanc? He just wants to make amends with Sean.

MY SAY Mangan has an amusing speech at the outset of next week's episode that pretty much captures the spirit of this fun enterprise as well as the city in which it is set. Imagine -- he says -- your ultimate fantasy is realized, and even though this experience was exactly as you imagined, it still meant nothing. "You'd assume that would diminish the experience but in fact makes it even better." So just to break this down: Your dreams come true, and they are worthless and stupid -- which makes them even better. Hooray for Hollywood! Written by David Crane ("Friends") and Jeffrey Klarik ("Mad About You"), "Episodes" is kind of a professional TV writers' revenge fantasy. Targets include vacant executives, libidinous stars, wide-eyed outsiders, the terrible TV they make, and the city they are made in. This could all be a prescription for a long dark mordant slog of a Hollywood satire, except that Crane and Klarik are rather fond of the silly place. They don't quite pull their punches, but "Episodes" -- last season and this -- is genial and upbeat. (Sure this town's a sewer! So what?)

LeBlanc very much remains the star -- and symbol for much that is wrong. He carries off this wacky balancing act like a pro.

BOTTOM LINE Still fun, but the innocent first moments last season were better.

GRADE B+

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