I just caught the first episode of “Episodes”, the new BBC comedy. Produced by Hat Trick, and starring Green Wing’s Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan, it looked like the kind of thing I liked, about a British couple who, having created a hit British TV show, now in its fourth series, are lured to Los Angeles to remake their show for the US market.
But it didn’t work for me, and I couldn’t work out why. An audition scene with Richard Griffiths lacked lustre, and was fairly unfunny, even though the dialog they were using was supposedly Bafta winning.
Furthermore, the first episode takes a single idea – that the elderly star and lynchpin of the original British show would fail his audition for the US show and be rejected for Matt LeBlanc – and made it the whole of the plot for the first episode. Something that was obvious from the first 10 minutes (and, in fact, the trailer)
How could they have got it so wrong? A quick Google, and I realised why it didn’t click for me. The show was written by David Crane, one of the co-creaters of “Friends”, and Jeffrey Klarik, co-producer of “Mad About You”. That’s right, the show written by American writers. The “typically British” comedy dialog used in the audition scene – that would be so difficult to translate to American comedy – was penned by the guy who created Joey Tribbiani.
Now I am not sniffy about American comedy – I liked both “Friends” and “Mad About You”, and many more US shows. But this reflection on reality is coming from the wrong side of the mirror. To satirise something, you need to be able to write it accurately, and there is no way that an American comedy writer – no matter how good – can find the voice of British comedy. So what it becomes is a programme about translating an American faux-British comedy into an American comedy.
It was not awful, I even smiled once or twice. But it seemed kind of pointless, and I am not sure I will bother with later episodes of “Episodes”. It occurred to me that someone had watched Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s brilliant “Extras” and thought “we’ll have some of that”. Unfortunately, it came nowhere near.