Let's begin with the caveats. Let's bear in mind that my opinion doesn't matter to anyone; I'm an inexperienced comedy writer compared to the stupidly experienced David Crane who co-writes Episodes; I've read no reviews of Episodes and have no idea if it's already deemed a hit or a smash, so my opinion may be way off those of others, or blandly the same. My instinct is that critics will broadly be in favour of Episodes because it's about the media and they love self-parodying, industry stuff, even though most TV audiences show themselves to be consistently uninterested in this kind of thing. There. Caveats done. (and yes, 'caveat' is 3rd person present iussive subjunctive, and yes, I do have an A-Level in Latin and yes, I am keen to use it.)
Let us recall that scene in Seinfeld when Jerry and George pitch the idea for the show. George says it's about nothing. And the exec says one of those incredibly annoying things that execs say which is 'Why am I watching this show?' George tersely replies, 'Because it's on TV', implying that people will watch whatever's on.
Except George is wrong. And, it pains me to say, the exec is kind of right. "Why am I watching this show?" is one of those annoying questions to ask, but there's something in it.
And so I ask myself the question, Why am I watching Episodes? Well, I'm watching it because it's new, so I ought to watch it. It's written by one of the creators of Friends and bunch of other things. It's got Stephan Mangan and Tamsin Grieg in it - what's not to like? And, most of all, it's sort of about my job. There are four or five reasons right there.
And I'm glad I watched it. The performances were good. There were some jokes that made me laugh out loud. And before I had looked at my watch, it ended, which is a good sign.
But am I going to keep watching it? Am I excited about watching it again next week?
I have mentioned William Goldman's The Year of the Comet before on this blog. It was, apparently, the next screenplay he wrote after Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Goldman knows how to write a really decent movie. And yet, he wrote The Year of the Comet, which vanished without trace. Why? Because nobody cared. Why did nobody care? Because it's a romantic comedy about a couple who are trying to track down a bottle of wine. Seriously. The trailer for it is here: (sorry if there's another ad first)
YEAR OF THE COMET: Movie Trailer. Watch more top selected videos about: Movie Trailers, Year of the Comet
Have you seen the trailer? Doesn't it look dreadful? 'From the writer of The Princess Bride and Butch Cassidy' says the voiceover... William Goldman laughs about it now. He writes about it in his excellent and compulsory follow-up to Adventures in the Screen Trade called Which Lie did I Tell? But the point is this: Who cares about a couple who's quest is a valuable bottle of wine? Could we be made to care about them? Maybe. Do we? No. And I think this is my main problem with Episodes. I don't really care. And that makes a big difference.
Caring about these people is going to be a tall order, since this is a sitcom about wealthy successful people, who are about to have mildly annoying things done to them buy even wealthier more successful people. And the problem is what I'm really meant to care about is an abstract sitcom. This sitcom of theirs is set in a boarding school and Richard Griffiths is in it. It's won some awards. That's all I know about it. I don't get any sense that this is a prized and loved thing that I should care about. This sitcom should be their baby. It should be a part of them. Changes to it should be excruciating. But I don't quite buy that the characters really care about their baby all that much.
Maybe their sitcom should be based on themselves in some way - about a married couple - or some personal experience - and therefore tampering with it causes serious personal trauma and pain, and a clash in their relationship. The cabbie who took them home from the BAFTAs could have quoted a line or a catchphrase from the show or something. Please, just make me care about the things the characters care about. Otherwise, all they're going to do is walk away quite wealthy and slightly tanned from a failed american sitcom.
I'm sure I shall watch next week - but partly because I want to know more about the original show of theirs, just like I've always wanted to see Ricky Gervais write a whole episode of When The Whistle Blows. Writing comedy about the comedy industry is one thing. Writing a character-based sitcom for a mainstream studio audience is another. Crane can obviously do that. His awards and record prove that. He probably has two personal assistants, three homes and four yachts to prove that. This is not a bad show at all. I laughed along, and it was easy to enjoy. But I don't love it. Yet.