In a welcomed, slight return to form, “Episode 404” of Episodes breaks free from the show’s recent unfortunate cycle of retreading familiar territory. As the series moves from its “Pucks” phase into the next chapter of its characters lives, new dilemmas have been revealed that make “Episode 404” more exciting than the season 4 episodes that preceded it.
Picking up right where “Episode 403” left off, Beverly flips through the pages of Sean’s partner’s notes realizing that their original premise for “The Opposite of Us” script isn’t quite so original. Sean calls his old partner Tim, the Schmeinstein to his Einstein, but Bev takes Tim’s side despite disliking him. The couple bicker over how much credit Tim truly deserves and it’s in this couple’s fighting that the sharp wit of Episodes can best be seen. Bev can see the similarities in their scripts while Sean refuses to, arguing that simply writing an idea down doesn’t qualify as having helped come up with the idea.
A call to their agent Eileen reveals that their legal department thinks the similarities could ultimately be a problem. Despite Eileen’s claims that she will make the problem go away, Tim wants to run “The Opposite of Us” with Sean & Bev. This potentially serves as a new uncomfortable situation that’s different from the frustrations with their network that the writers dealt with in the earlier seasons. Bev already appears ready to leave the project, and Tim’s sudden importance will likely drive a new wedge between her and Sean.
Eileen’s continued presence as a minor Episodes player has been brought down a notch since her introduction midway through Season 3. When the character was introduced, Eileen was a somewhat frenzied presence not content to simply be on the phone without also briskly trotting on her treadmill-desk. That energy is missing from her more recent appearances, perhaps realizing it’d be unfair to ask actress Andrea Rosen to be wearing heels on a treadmill for every on-screen appearance. Unfortunately, the lack of distinctiveness to her character has made the role increasingly forgettable.
Elsewhere, Episodes explores the ramifications of the morning after. Carol’s somewhat sudden turn to homosexuality is discussed at length between her and Helen, then her and Beverly. The handling is often sweet and although these talks are fairly on the nose, they sound like authentic conversation punched up for laughs. All things considered, a fairly significant character choice is handled gracefully in “Episode 404.”
Though Carol doesn’t immediately tell everyone, Episodes chooses to not keep an annoying secret from its characters. First, Helen accompanies Carol and Beverly on their habitual hike, and Carol and Helen giggle like lovebirds throughout. With a couple quick glances and a snide offering of her water bottle, Beverly makes it clear she knows. In her next scene with Carol, the two characters address it.
For Matt LeBlanc, waking up next to his mildly displeased, hungover ex-wife Diane makes him eager to reestablish their relationship. Matt seems sincerely happy to be reconnecting with his former spouse, but the $3 million his money guys say he can get for selling her house must play a part as well. Episodes plays his true intentions for this storyline close to the chest, and maybe Matt isn’t 100% sure what he’s looking for either. But by the end of the episode, when Matt and a crab walk in on Diane with her other former partner in the shower, he looks genuinely hurt.
Ending with the episode on a scene that reunites the Sean-Beverly-Matt trio over crabs is a charming conclusion, with a funny albeit abrupt reversal ending. As Episodes separates the Matt, Carol, and Sean & Beverly storylines into individual paths, the question remains of how the Episodes writers plan to keep the dynamics intact. The lack of consequence between LeBlanc and the others lessens his ability to serve as an instigator of issues for those around him.
Moving through the fourth season, Sean, Bev, Matt, and Carol have been eased into new but comfortable territory that allows the writers to explore the tensions that resonate best with their characters. Sean and Bev are at their funniest when forced to deal with work-related obstacles. Matt is most hysterical if his dilemmas reveal ugly aspects to his personality, and Carol becomes captivating when thrust into social situations when she’s ill equipped to handle them. “Episode 404” has the Episodes’ characters headed in a smart direction.