In the fifth and final series of Episodes, BBC2’s inspired take down of Hollywood hubris and hypocrisy, Matt LeBlanc is the reluctant host of The Box, an absurdly cruel gameshow which is so successful it’s what network boss Elliot Salad (Michael Brandon) thinks about when making love to this wife.
It also means that Matt is back working with his old enemy Merc Lepidus (John Pankow), and their vinegary exchanges remain both one of this show’s great joys and a useful reminder us that humiliation and disaster is just a misstep away in this phoney, high stakes world of West Coast TV-making.
This show has always brilliantly captured the roller-coaster natural of fame – it’s as fun as it is gently revealing about US boardroom machinations. And there is more than a hint of real life people and stories to it, as the writers explained when they met RadioTimes.com in London.
“There’s a real life everybody. David will say there isn’t, but there is,” Klarik tells RadioTimes.com, noting that they have meant plenty of real life monsters and colourful eccentrics in their decades working in TV.
Crane laughs: “Yes, no… and I’ll sometimes get anxious about it, and I’m like, ‘Do we want to burn that bridge?’ and Jeffrey’s like, Yes!’”
Adds Klarik: “My feeling is we’re never going back over that bridge again, we’re never going back where we came from.”
The pair (pictured below) have also decided to call time on Episodes after five series – insisting that it is their decision to end the popular series which also stars Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig as LeBlanc’s his fish-out-of-water British writer pals.
“[US producers] Showtime wanted more, but we felt, you know what? Let’s leave before someone asks you to leave,” says Crane. “Let’s leave people wanting more, and let’s put a bow on it – because the worse thing is when a network cancels your show and you’re not done, you haven’t finished your story.”
They are working on other TV ideas but have resolutely refused to allow The Box to be made into a series – despite approaches from production companies who believe the fictional gameshow could become a real one.
In the show contestants are put through various ordeals while standing inside a Perspex box for days on end and with camera permanently trained on them and a studio audience enjoying the whole spectacle. It may sound more like a war crime than a small screen entertainment – but astonishingly some US producers have wondered if it will work for real.
“We had a meeting with people about making it into a real show – I swear to God,” says Klarik.
Adds Crane: “We were like, ‘seriously?’ And they went, ‘No, we think this could be a really good show’. The fact that something as outlandish and crazy as The Box could actually end up on the air is mind-boggling.”
But the Box’s tortures and humiliations are as nothing compared to Sean and Beverley’s ordeal in the final series of Episodes: Tamsin Grieg and Stephen Mangan’s writing duo start series five with the network forcing them to work with obnoxious narcissist Tim (Bruce Mackinnon), a man who also believes that making comedies funny is old school.
This is another one of their in-jokes and digs against the industry. They really have heard people say this. But fortunately, it’s a mistake that these writers have never made.
Adds Crane: “It is, it’s just it’s weird because… and maybe we’re really, as Tim says, we’re ‘old school’, but I don’t know – I watch a half hour, I wanna be laughing, and so it’s very disconcerting. It’s like if you’re making donuts, it should have a hole in it. Do you know what I mean?”
We certainly do. This is a seriously funny show.
Episodes returns for the fifth and final series on Friday on BBC2 at 10pm