Review: "Episodes"

Reason to watch: The long-awaited return of Matt LeBlanc.

When/Where: Sunday at 9:30 p.m. on Showtime

Welcome, Matt! LeBlanc shines in 'Episodes'

Stephen Mangan as Sean Lincoln, Matt LeBlanc as

Stephen Mangan as Sean Lincoln, Matt LeBlanc as himself, and Tamsin Grieg as Beverly Lincoln in "Episodes" . Courtesy of SHOWTIME (Credit: Showtime Photo/)

Travel deals

Sean and Beverly Lincoln are a very nice and very talented husband-wife writer team working in the U.K. who, one fateful evening, are approached at a party by a rapacious American network TV executive. Would they - this shark purrs - like to adapt their hit series about an exclusive English prep school entitled "Lyman's Boys" to U.S. TV?

Sean (Stephen Mangan) and Beverly (Tamsin Greig) are hesitant. Merc Lapidus (John Pankow, "Mad About You") puts on the hard, hard sell: "I want to have sex with your show. An American version would be huuuuge, like 'The Office' meets . . . " He can't think of what it would meet. But they are sold, and fully expect to import their distinguished British lead, Julian Bullard (Richard Griffiths), to the U.S. version.

But not so fast. Merc and his quislings have another idea: Matt LeBlanc for the lead. "JOEY"!!?? Bev and Sean blurt out. Matt has ideas, too. He wants to gut their series and turn it into a show about a hockey coach, entitled "Pucks!"

MY SAY "Episodes" is " 'The Beverly Hillbillies'-meets-'Larry Sanders'-meets-'Extras'-meets-'Entourage'-meets-some show I haven't even thought of" and yet . . . it feels wholly, utterly original, which is no small feat, considering that long, twisted and utterly ludicrous lineage. Written by star show-runners David Crane ("Friends") and Jeffrey Klarik ("Mad About You"), "Episodes" is an often shrewd and insightful look at TV show development, and . . . Oh God, now I'm putting you to sleep.

Sorry. What "Episodes" really is, is this: It's funny as hell. LeBlanc - whom I've always admired, with "Joey" as a possible exception - is a revelation here. His character - umm, Matt LeBlanc - is reptilian in that effortlessly oleaginous Hollywood way, but he's also infuriatingly endearing. Greig and Mangan - Brits with a considerable following over on that side of the pond - are brilliant as the fish-out-of-water scribes hopelessly smitten by the tinsel (until they are not).

BOTTOM LINE A great way to start the new year. "Episodes" is flawless and hilarious. What a pity it lasts only seven episodes.

GRADE A+

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