The kiss was “surprisingly sexy,” Matt LeBlanc – speaking of his TV tryst with actress Tamsin Greig – informed the British media last month, while promoting last week’s return of the Showtime series Episodes, and his own Golden Globe-winning lead role.
“Very, very sexy,” he quickly added. “Not surprising at all.”
Episodes, stated simply, follows the unsurprising travails of a posh English couple, Beverly and Sean Lincoln (Greig and Stephen Mangan), as they attempt to translate their hit British TV show into a U.S. series in Los Angeles, amid savages who cannot make a “proper cup of tea.”
While the trope is tedious – I maintain that every U.K. show that was made into Americana is far better for it – the creators/writers, David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik, have managed in this small, seductive comedy to create a perfect fusion between a certain English reserve or contempt and a certain “barbaric yawp” that is America singing.
More critically, they have exhumed Matt LeBlanc, last seen in the mass Friends grave, or, as the tabloids also reported of Matthew Perry, barking at reporters about a possible reunion of the old hit show.
LeBlanc, the funniest and most beloved of that cast, though not so for his bizarre filmography (Lookin’ Italian, Lost in Space and Ed – the monkey movie), was swiftly reviled for his Friends spinoff, Joey, which ran from 2004-2006, or for one season.
The show was not bad. The problem was we were through with Friends, and the rapidly aging cast, who negotiated like terrorists for an unheard-of million-dollar-per-episode salary (each!) and began showing up in deep suntans, with stoned-looking, circled eyes to cough up their lines. Maybe this is why, excluding one reference to Chandler Bing in the first episode, Joey never mentioned his five former best friends – but this omission only served to make the show feel like an elaborate lie, if not an insectile amputation.
But most problematic was the era: Before cable TV, before actors could swear and screw and “go to very dark places” (as LeBlanc recently noted of his new role), TV about young, hot people was choke-chained, and increasingly tiring to audiences who only returned to this sort of ensemble with How I Met Your Mother, which is coarser and uses as its omphalos a dive bar, not a muffin and coffee shop.
It was only in the middle of Friends’s 10-year-run that the word “ass” was permitted; while the erotic banter was somewhat racy, it was frustrating as well; like playing – as an average, perverse child – with curvaceous, non-sexually-functioning Barbies.
As a child – and the writer A.M.Homes captures this well in her story A Real Doll, where Barbie’s mistress burns and gouges her in a predatory rage – one feels thwarted, maddened. As an adult, one writes fan or slash fiction: Homeric-in-length stories where the master narrative remains the same, while a kinky subtext asserts itself, often lewdly. Here is a scintillant slice of “It Started in London” by Tink88: “Joey took a deep breath and acquiesced to her wishes. He entwined his arms about Rachel’s waist to yank her harder against his hard body. He brushed a strand of hair out of her face and dipped his head to taste her lips again. As she kissed him back, his hands moved down to cup her bottom and push her up against the massive bulge in his tuxedo pants.”
Written years ago, this naughty bit anticipated Episodes perfectly, as Matt LeBlanc’s character, Matt LeBlanc (this same/not business is a bit of confessional-poet trickery, or something courtesy of Lacan’s House of Mirrors) is possessed of a mammoth organ. “All it’s missing is an elbow,” LeBlanc remarks of his “third leg.”
To what other dark or, more accurately, lit-up and liberating, places does LeBlanc go in Episodes?
He cheerfully mocks Joey, but never with any venom: In one scene from the new season’s first episode, he has boisterous sex with his boss’s wife as a complete set of deformed Friends bobble-heads bounce before the camera, Joey front and centre; in another, he speaks ruefully of his designer-scent, Joey (tagline: ‘How You Smellin’?”), yet he drenches himself in the fragrance daily.
The LeBlanc character makes reference to messing up his life, to sexual misconduct and genuine sadness, qualities that, ultimately, win over the rigid Lincolns, and make a pleasing mulch of the actor and his personas.
If LeBlanc’s charisma, however, virtually carries this show (the supporting cast is excellent but just that, supporting), it is unclear why the obviously dreadful Lyman’s Boys (the Lincolns’ original show) is so imperiled in its transformation to the U.S. Pucks! – early in Episodes, the original series about an erudite, physically grotesque headmaster is dumbed-down. The headmaster becomes a hockey coach, the Lincolns cry “Oh my God!” and wring their hands at the casting of Caliban in their magical, witty drama.
Without the raw materials of British TV, we would never have had Three’s Company, All in the Family or Sanford and Son.
However, without the available cliché, in pop, about brainy Brits (the same is true of New Yorkers, oddly enough) being debased by knuckle-dragging Los Angeleans, we would not have Episodes.
That kiss between LeBlanc and Greig? Hotter than hell. If Joey could have acted like that – all muscular aggression and, in close-up, beautiful John Barrymore-worthy profile – Friends would have been his seraglio.
Get down on your knees and thank cable for bringing sexy back.