‘See, that’s our problem,’ screams a studio executive, ‘no one here knows what’s funny!’
And so, in a single pithy sentence, was the whole problem of Episodes summed up by its own writers. Was it meant to be ironic? Or post-ironic? Or post-post-ironic?
Whatever it was, it didn’t forgive seven episodes of feeble comic scenarios extended to the point at which the whole thing seemed like an experiment in pushing the limits of an audience’s ability to tolerate other people’s discomfort. Does something slightly funny, when extended beyond the point by which it has long-since stopped being funny, suddenly become funny again? (The answer is ‘no’.)
And so we had ‘the one where Americans are shallow’, ‘the one where Matt LeBlanc has a big cock’, ‘the one where Stephen Mangan finds out Matt LeBlanc slept with his wife’. No attempts to put actual jokes into these scenarios, or even to develop characters – just to put them into awkward situations and watch them squirm, scene after painful scene. It’s not as if the concept itself doesn’t have potential – we’ve dabbled in comedy about the scriptwriting process ourselves, though the BBC told us none of the characters were likeable enough (even more laughable a judgement in the wake of Episodes) – but to produce something where the deliberately bad comedy-within-a-comedy isn’t noticably worse than anything surrounding it is careless to say the least.
And yet… and yet I watched all seven episodes, punishing though I found it. Why? I’m still trying to work it out. Certainly part of me was hoping for a clever twist, or a mind-blowing plot development, or even a joke. But I think the quality of the performances has something to do with it. Matt LeBlanc, Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig may be no more capable of making cock jokes funny than anyone else, but they managed to make three deeply unlikeable characters somehow sympathetic and indeed interesting.
The final episode left things open for a brand new series; since the same episode saw the knowingly dreadful comedy-within-a-comedy getting commissioned, perhaps the writers are hoping for a truly post-post-post-ironic case of life imitating art?
I suppose that might be worth a titter, a least.