Any show that stays on the air for an extended period of time runs the risk of turning into self-parody as it sends its characters down familiar storylines. That trend especially affects comedies as character quirks that once seemed novel can be repeated to the point of wrecking them. This recycling of similar concepts turned shows like The Office and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia into amusing shadows of their former selves, and it’s now threatening the potential for the remainder of Episodes’ fourth season.
Though “Episode 402” effectively serves as a bridge episode between the events put into place at the end of Season 3 and the new developments that will likely serve as the primary crux for the remainder of Season 4, in retreading the same territory “Episode 402” quickly becomes forgettable. After Sean and Beverly finally agree to take network meetings for their pilot script The Opposite of Us, their WME agent Eileen Jaffee brings the writer couple into the offices of interchangeable corporate suits with big, unwelcome ideas for their show. Beverly’s comeback to their script being called, “gimmicky,” is a highlight in an otherwise uninteresting story beat that ultimately ends with The Opposite of Us landing with Carol & new network head Helen Basch.
The string of uncomfortable network meetings isn’t the only reluctant get-together that Sean & Bev take in “Episode 402.” Doing Matt LeBlanc a favor, the writers visit the office of their cloying former personal assistant Andrew Lesley in order to assure Andrew that Matt is available to star in his new show. They enter his lavish Colonial workplace and are greeted by an annoyingly overeager assistant, in complete contrast to Sean & Beverely’s own accommodations. The lengths Andrew and his assistant go to in order to pamper their guests goes so far beyond the realm of reality that it wouldn’t seem out of place for the assistant to break into a song and dance routine shortly after serving Sean and Bev his homemade pastries.
In small doses, sprinkling Andrew Lesley’s happiness into the series as a juxtaposition to Sean and Beverly can serve as a delightful shift in tone as the couple are met with increasingly frustrating obstacles. The longer this gag runs on, however, the harder it is to laugh at, and in “Episode 402,” Andrew’s presence lacks significance.
The newest Episodes includes the full introduction of Helen Basch, who is only mentioned in conversation in the Season 4 premiere. From first impression, she seems levelheaded and likeable, not at all like the ruthless executive that Carol worried about in “Episode 401.” In fact, aside from a hint of charm, she’s nearly devoid of personality. The most distinctive element to Helen is that in a sea of incompetent executive, she feels like the sole rational voice.
In all likelihood, Episodes will develop her down a similar trajectory as Season 3’s network head Castor Sotto, where the introduction seemed innocuous only to slowly reveal a more crazy individual lurking underneath; however, “Episode 402” puts the pressure in Helen’s scenes on Carol, who awkwardly stumbles her way through admitting she slept with Helen’s ex-husband. The lack of consequence is somewhat deflating, if only because Helen’s non-reaction to the news doesn’t illicit laughs.
Where “Episode 402” is strongest is in the continuing development of Matt LeBlanc’s financial woes. Coping with the “Episode 401” news that he’s lost half of his net worth, LeBlanc meets with financial consultants who have determined his spending needs to be drastically scaled back. Forcing a man with LeBlanc’s wealth to evaluate what he deems important is occasionally hilarious. His funniest moment is the episode’s opening in which his publicist consults a half-asleep and unsympathetic Matt about issuing a statement to his recently deceased, crooked financial manager. These enjoyable LeBlanc scenes help to balance what is an otherwise an uneven episode.
For the remainder of Episodes’ fourth season, any forward progress in the Helen Basch or Sean and Bev vs. The Network plotlines needs to be more than entertaining. To avoid predictability and monotony, the show will have to strive for fresher subject matter. While the performers remain engaging and much of the repartee is still sharp, without a compelling narrative to follow, Episodes is in danger of slipping into unmemorable mediocrity.