Just when they thought they were out, Hollywood pulled them back in. Wasting precious little time, Season 4 of Episodes opens with a few quick shots of Sean and Beverly Lincoln unhappily en route back to Los Angeles from London. Before Network Corporate Head Elliot Salad picked up “Pucks!” for an additional 6 episodes at the end of Season 3 (this in order to spite the NBC brass that just landed Matt LeBlanc in a new pilot), everyone in the Episodes cast of characters seemed one step closer to happiness. But the next morning in “Episode 401”, Sean & Bev, Morning Randolph and even Matt LeBlanc himself are back on Stage 32 to make their, “shitty sitcom no one watched.”
It’s unclear how much of the set up is meant to be received as a meta skewering of Episodes having lasted this long, but in its 4th season, the Showtime Hollywood satire remains a charming send up of the industry and the many manipulative personalities that populate it. The show may feel less vital than it once was, but the charismatic cast is still delivering steady laughs as their characters adjust to new, unfavorable circumstances.
The major launching point in “Episode 401” comes with the suicide of Matt’s financial guy Larry Penzel. In typical LeBlanc fashion, he handles the call about Penzel’s death in his car while attempting to get a woman one car over to flash him. Scenes like these illustrate some of the moral ambiguity that can make Episodes, and particularly LeBlanc playing a version of himself, a complete delight to watch. It’s a balance that the show still attains best through LeBlanc’s willingness to take his persona to dark, at times unforgivable places.
At the subsequent funeral for Penzel, Matt learns that his business manager had been the subject of an audit from Demi Lovato revealing some illicit business practices that the FBI began investigating. The equity accounts for Matt’s sons as well as $32 million of LeBlanc’s money is gone, sending him into a drunken spiral of shame behind-the-scenes of “Pucks!” Granted, Matt still has a little over $31 million leftover, an amount Sean & Bev are compelled to remind him is quite substantial, but to LeBlanc the glass is decidedly half empty. “You could live on one million dollars a year,” he says dismissively towards Sean’s suggestion that his situation is not so dire. Yet, Matt’s money woes have a ripple effect that forces Sean & Beverly to reconsider their own financial situation.
Meanwhile, Carol meets with Elliot Salad about the vacancy at the head of the network. While lobbying for herself to take the job once offered to her, a comment about allowing a woman to take the job prompts Elliot to suggest Helen Bash. Carol’s unrelenting need to please prevents her from disparaging someone else’s idea, especially someone more powerful than her, even as her jaw quivers at the prospect of Elliot’s new hire. Carol has reason to be nervous though, as she once slept with Helen’s husband and broke up her marriage.
Former head of the network Merc Lapidus appears for one brief scene in which he also receives news of his financial losses in the wake of Penzel’s shady practices, but finds solace in the knowledge that LeBlanc lost more money than him. It’s only a minor, forgettable scene, but Lapidus’ presence suggests he may continue to be in the plans for Episodes. Perhaps if Carol really does find herself on the outs as a result of Helen Bash’s employment, she might feel the need to turn to an old ally.
Gone from the Season 4 cast is former head of the network Castor Sotto (Chris Diamantopoulos) following his psychotic outburst; however, Andrea Rosen is back as Eileen Jaffee, Sean & Beverly’s stateside WME agent, striding along on her desk/treadmill. Eileen continues her pursuit of Sean & Bev’s unproduced pilot script for “The Opposite of Us.” After initially turning down her advances (though she briefly, humorously mistakes their, “No,” for a, “Go”), the couple are badgered by LeBlanc about their lack of savings, with Matt balking at the idea that they’re collectively worth less than $1 million. By the end of the episode, Sean’s caved and informs Eileen that this time it really is, “Go.”
With the first episode of its fourth season, Episodes has hit the reset button and brought many of the elements that made the show work well in its first couple seasons. There are few laugh out loud moments, though the brief, hilarious interactions with Sean & Bev’s consistently unhelpful assistant Wendy provide many chuckles. Still, the show is a pleasant watch despite featuring characters who are so often unpleasant to one another. The conflicts that arise in “Episode 401” promise to put Episodes’ characters in a position to be at their funniest, and while it may not be the biting satire the show was in its early seasons, there is enough substance for fans of the construct to remain happily tuned in.