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<i>Episodes</i>: What We Learned This Season

Hey, remember when Episodes was a behind-the-scenes look at a terrible American sitcom called Pucks? No? That's okay, because the Season 2 finale, which aired last night, barely mentioned the show-within-the-show at all. Instead, personal business overtook the business of show, as the finale wrapped up a few of the season's will-they-or-won't-they storylines (among them, "Will Sean and Bev reconcile"; "Will Carol break up with Merc already"; and "Won't someone please arrest Labia?") while leaving enough threads dangling to weave a third year, should Showtime decide to order one. If it does come back, here's hoping -- and we're probably the only people in the show's version of America wishing this -- there's a lot more Pucks and a lot less partner-swapping.

So having watched the last nine episodes of Episodes, what have we learned about life in Hollywood? Here are the five lessons we'll take away from the series:

1. If You're Pitched a Show About a Talking Dog, Always Say "Yes"
Merc made a lot of mistakes on his way to the unemployment office, but hands down his biggest was passing on a series that revolved around a chatty mutt in favor launching Matt LeBlanc's big comeback. Not only did Pucks fail to find in audience (in large part because it was a subpar adaptation of a much better British original), but having LeBlanc back in the fold led the star to hook up with Merc's wife, Jamie, and since the talking dog show was Carol's baby, it became yet another humiliation she had to swallow in their one-sided relationship. So should you ever find yourself in charge of a network, remember this simple equation: "Talking Animal = Ratings Hit." Hey, it worked for Mr. Ed, didn't it?

2. Matt LeBlanc's Best Role is Himself
After struggling to escape the long shadow of Joey Tribbiani ever since Friends and its short-lived spin-off Joey ended, Matt LeBlanc finally found the role he was born to play: Matt LeBlanc. The actor was continual bright spot throughout the season, even when stranded in beyond-stupid storylines like the Labia fiasco. And he didn't just excel at the self-aware zingers; LeBlanc showed a surprising maturity in the final two episodes, wrestling first with his weight gain and then with the realization that he actually felt something for Jamie beyond momentary pleasure. Even if Episodes is cancelled, we'd easily watch LeBlanc play himself on another series -- maybe in that one, he and his old Lost in Space co-star William Hurt can become roommates.

3. When Adapting a British Series, Be Sure to Employ Some American Producers
Sure, network interference was a factor in the general suckiness of Pucks, but Sean and Bev aren't entirely blameless given that they adapted their own series and apparently account for the show's entire writing and producing staff. The most successful American translations of British shows -- from All in the Family to The Office -- are true cross-cultural collaborations with American writers/producers often taking point on the production. On the other hand, Steven Moffat was the primary creative force behind the U.S. version of his hit U.K. series Coupling and most agree that didn't work out so well. (Of course, Americans have been known to screw-up great British shows, too, as anyone who has seen the never-aired Spaced remake can tell you.) Sean and Bev's rough transition to Hollywood might have been eased somewhat had the network paired them off with a collaborator who knew the ins and outs of American network television and could help them fix the series after its post-pilot ratings plunge. While that's one more role to add to an already crowded-ensemble, on the plus side it would direct the spotlight back to their show and away from their boring personal drama.

4. Actors Are Always Older Then They Appear
Morning Randolph isn't a particularly great character, but the Episodes writers have gotten a lot of comic mileage out of the notion that she's a walking, talking Dorian Gray, complete with a picture somewhere in her attic that bears all her unseen age wrinkles and the scars from her various surgeries. In addition to that running gag, this season poked fun at the vast age discrepancy between TV teenagers and actual teenagers, most memorably in a scene when one of the "young" actors on Pucks reveals that he's getting married... for the second time. At this rate, next year we're expecting to learn that Matt has been around as long as Edward Cullen.

5. Workplace Comedies Should Remain In the Workplace
Episodes got into trouble this season whenever it left the confines of the studio lot (and network offices) and ventured into the characters' homes. That's how we wound up with ultimately worthless characters like Matt's stalker Labia and Morning's brother and temporary Bev-suitor Rob. With Merc now out of the picture and Carol possibly in charge of the network, there's the potential for a renewed focus on skewering the often farcical way that the TV industry goes about its business. That's the stuff Episodes does best. The rest of it isn't much better than Pucks.

Truest Hollywood Lines From the Finale:
"I swear I am done messing with my face!" -- Morning Randolph, promising Sean that she's through with monkeying around with what nature (and a team of doctors) has created. Except for the occasional chin lift, of course.
"Oh no, fired from Pucks!" -- Matt, laughing off Merc's threat of being fired from a show that nobody likes anyway.
"Keep laughing -- for the rest of your life, you're just going to be the fat guy who used to be Joey!" -- Merc, summing up Matt's future on Episodes... and maybe also in real life?
"Not the face!" -- Morning, uttering the plea that every actor makes when they're caught up in, or adjacent to, a fist fight.
"I didn't get a candle!" -- Bev, complaining about the unfair randomness with which gifts are distributed into goodie bags, the most prized possession at any major Hollywood function.

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