“I’m fucking full of whimsy.” Matt LeBlanc utters this line in defense of a Peter Pan reference he makes while drunk. What’s ironic about this dialogue is that Matt LeBlanc in Episodes really is whimsical. It’s his playful character choices that sell every episode. Matt LeBlanc carries this show. And not just with the comedic beats. LeBlanc brings a level of realism to a somewhat unrealistic cast of characters. Surprising when you remember that he’s playing the actor in a behind the scenes show, a character that is usually the most outrageous and narcissistic. Not to say that LeBlanc doesn’t embody some of the stereotypes of actors; he’s rich, difficult to control and he’s a whore. But it’s the toned down version of an actor that makes LeBlanc’s role different from so many before him.
It’s hard to sympathize with the super rich guy who bails on his marriage and sleeps with a nanny in front of his two children. But Matt LeBlanc pulls it off. After losing a custody battle with his ex-wife, LeBlanc gets drunk at a courthouse bar in Santa Clarita (extra funny if you live in Los Angeles and know how far away that really is). After realizing that the paparazzi is waiting for him to leave to catch him driving drunk, LeBlanc calls what appears to be his only friend, the showrunner of his pilot, Sean. Sean and Beverly drive all the way to Santa Clarita (seriously, guys, it’s really far away) to rescue their hapless star. What’s astounding about LeBlanc, the actor, is that he manages to make you love him, the character. Even when he’s being ridiculous. After winning our sympathy with his heartfelt loss of custody, LeBlanc reverts back to his “actor-y” ways, tricking Sean and Beverly into driving him to his ex-wife Diane’s house. Here we meet the former Mrs. LeBlanc. And she’s somehow even more likeable than Matt. Maybe it was her sincere half smile after he calls her the C-word. Or the fact that she lets him see his kids despite the newly instated court order. Either way, she’s much more likeable than most ex-wives portrayed on television.
After the loving scene with Matt and his ex, and the depression that overcomes Matt after leaving their house, Beverly is overcome with sympathy and invites LeBlanc to spend the night, where he passes out after throwing up on her. And we’re back to the expected character choices from the writers. He sleeps with a woman he barely knows from a Jamba Juice. And he goes back to picking on Beverly. It’s not a drastic change in LeBlanc’s character, but rather the realistic shades of gray from real life.
After losing his children, there’s real sorrow on LeBlanc’s face and you remember that you’re watching Showtime. This is the first time that the show has felt like a premium cable comedy. It’s the mix of comedy and drama that is harder to pull off in network television and what makes shows like Weeds, Californication, Nurse Jackie and now Episodes different from, many network comedy shows. It’s realistic without feeling set up. This episode was blissfully free of the “behind the scenes” plot points that the show normally has. Not that they aren’t funny, but it’s always nice to take a break from on-set antics and get a little glimpse of the characters “real” lives. It’s a rare way to flush out the characters that are always in danger of becoming one dimensional — the actor, the writer and the studio execs (who did not appear in this episode, surprisingly). And Matt LeBlanc is just as likeable or unlikable as you would want most actors to be.
Joey Slamon lives in Los Angeles where she watches lots of television and produces this show.