Previously on Episodes: Successful writing team Beverly and Sean Lincoln are overwhelmed by events when their popular British sitcom is bought up, remade and finally eviscerated by the US networks. Insult is added to insult when the role of the fusty old teacher (clearly inspired by Richards Griffiths’ own History Boys type role) is rejigged to suit former Friends star Matt LeBlanc.
Of course, it’s LeBlanc playing a heighted version of himself that’s the real draw here, but it’s significantly more than gag casting. LeBlanc really is very good at playing himself, which isn’t, as you might think, a back-handed compliment: witness the subtle difference between the way LeBlanc (the real life actor) plays Matt (the character) and his character on ‘Pucks!’, essentially riffling on an older version of Joey.
When Matt LeBlanc becomes a selfish, racist misogynist, it’s very difficult to see where LeBlanc ends and Matt begins. It veers into Curb Your Enthusiasm territory at times, particularly in an extended sequence where Matt imitates having sex with a deaf girl.
Series 2 continues apace and the strength lies in the ability of all the leads to play off each other. Tamsin Grieg and Stephen Mangan provide the real heart of the show as their marriage continues to disintegrate around them, despite their obvious love for each other. Both are masters of the long, uncomprehending double take – and when the plot requires them both to do it at once, it’s a joy.
They’re given a great deal to play off, too, including Daisy Haggard, who is great as perpetually unimpressed aide Myra, her mouth fixed in a painful rictus expression of lethargy. It’s these moments that really highlight the strengths of having the two styles of humour (UK and US) perpetually collide, without, for the most part, either side being reduced to cliché.
There are a couple of misbeats – one episode ends with a studio executive glowering while watching his rival’s hit TV show, which feels like it was tacked on to end that half hour on a ‘bigger’ laugh, while a very good joke involving the absolute absence of other Friends cast members gives way to a fairly predictable punch line.
However, for the most part this is sharp, well-delivered comedy with a pair of actors at the top of their game delivering honest, affecting performances.
Released on DVD on Monday 9th July 2012 by BBC Worldwide.
What did you think of Series 2? Let us know below…