This week's Episodes episode (aha!) is the first to completely lack a plot about TV development or Pucks! or anything like that, and that's a good move. OK, the joke about Morning Randolph's incredible age is advanced in the first five minutes, but there's no sign of Merc or Carol or anyone. We're squarely focused on Sean, Beverly, and Matt this time around. Halfway through the first season, the jokes about Pucks! seem to be tapped out for now, and even by the end of the last episode, it's getting tiresome. Beverly gets mad about some change that's being initiated by Matt or Merc, Sean is more on-the-fence and understanding, and… that's about it. The show is still being shot, and we realize how everyone feels about that, so what else is there to do? We get a quick, two-line rehash at the start of this week's episode: "Did I mention I hate this show?" asks Beverly; Sean says she had.
As I wrote last week, Beverly's tenseness at all of the changes at Matt's cavalier attitude was making her a very shrill, one-note character, and I was worried through much of this episode that that wasn't going to change. Matt moans when Sean brings her along to pick him up from a bar/distract a paparazzo and still calls her "Betsy," and she keeps rolling her eyes at his crudeness, et al. He's lost custody of his kids and can only see them every other weekend, just because he had sex with their nanny and he got caught by his son. "She was already in the house! It shouldn't count!" Matt complains.
I like that the show is happy to bring LeBlanc's character down a notch on the issue of his kids, because they seemed to be suggesting it was one of his most redeeming features in episode two, even if he did screw around and hate the ex-wife and so on. But, as we learn here, he's not even a particularly stellar dad, and he seems to know that despite protests to the contrary. Episodes is showing off its best quality—it doesn't incite us to pick a side—in laying bare Matt's flaws but not using that to undercut his feelings for the kids, which are genuine. A lot of shows would go one way with the denouement of the episode, where Matt hammers on his ex-wife Diane's door and demands to be let in. It's very easy to go for farce there, especially after luring the audience in with Matt's sympathetic despondency about losing custody.
Instead, Diane lets all of them in, after a great plea from Matt: "Just once, don't be a cunt." Beverly reminds Sean that that gem won't ever work on her, but Diane is swayed enough to let everyone in to watch the kids sleeping. We're outside the realm of reality at this point, but it's worth it for the scene, especially Matt's pained voice as the reality of the situation hits him: "Jesus, every other weekend? I'm such an asshole." LeBlanc, whose dramatic skills I've certainly never considered before, does very well with the moment and doesn't overplay it at all.
The final act plays out more predictably. Matt and Beverly make up, with Matt actually calling her by her real name before dribbling vomit onto her shoulder. Again, I do have to applaud the decision not to go nuts with the vomit: Smaller is better here. And, in the final scene, Matt has a little turnaround once he's sober and douchey again, bringing a girl (and her dog) over to Sean and Beverly's for sex and complaining about their lack of coffee and calling her Betsy again. That whole exchange didn't delight me as much because it plays out exactly as I expected, but mending all of the fences between these three by the fourth episode would really leave this show nowhere to go.
The main flaw of "Episode Four" is that it's not particularly funny. Sean and Beverly have a real dearth of zingers that hit, although Matt gets some good ones, like "I'm fucking full of whimsy!" after he references Peter Pan. This isn't a show I'm watching for big laughs, but this episode got the least of them out of me, although that was traded off for some good character-building the other episodes lacked. And really, it's amazing how much Merc's absence helped. Episodes isn't there yet, but there's something that sets it apart nonetheless.
- Pucks! just looks terrible at this point, as Beverly makes clear.
- Beverly thinks Morning is so old, she was in the play "when Lincoln got shot."
- "I think it's nice that you made a new titsy friend!"
- Matt smashed the paparazzo's camera once. "And his head may have been involved in the smashing."
- Matt doesn't think he has a sex compulsion. "No, of course not, it was an informed decision to shag the nanny!" says Beverly.
- "I like the small one; the big one, enh!"
- The repetition of Jamba Juice would have been funnier five years ago, but it still got a mild laugh out of me.
- "Let the awkward silence begin," says Sean. "I thought that would break the tension, but clearly, it just shines a light on it."