Matt LeBlanc playing Matt LeBlanc in Episodes is Matt LeBlanc’s greatest ever role… IDST.
The beloved sitcom actor turns 51 today (July 25) and, as birthdays are for ego boosts, I’m here to tell Mr LeBlanc why his best role, in the history of a three-decade career, has been to play himself in Showtime‘s Episodes. After all, he’s the best man for the job.
In case you missed it, here’s a little recap as to what Episodes is all about:
In summary, two successful British writers – exquisitely portrayed by long-time acting duo, Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan – are headhunted by a Hollywood network to remake their quietly charming, quintessentially English comedic drama for an American audience.
Agreeing to sell their soul, they quickly discover what a mistake they’ve made when the network enlists ‘Joey from FRIENDS.‘ to play the lead role.
Enter: Matt LeBlanc playing Matt LeBlanc.
Unsurprisingly, he plays himself – otherwise known as ‘the character’ – very convincingly throughout Episodes.
What was surprising – pleasantly – about LeBlancs’s performance in Episodes, was the chance it gave viewers in the US and the UK to relive LeBlanc’s expert comedy timing and deadpan delivery.
‘But, you’re forgetting about Joey Tribbiani,’ the FRIENDS fans holla loudly in the comments section through bites of sandwich. Well, no, actually.
Joey had some great moments in the long-running sitcom, admittedly:
But over the course of ten seasons on the world’s most popular TV show, Joey was somewhat lost in the ensemble cast as a cheap laugh, devalued no matter how much affection the audience felt for his dim-witted but loyal charm.
While the rest of the gang – Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Monica and Phoebe – underwent some degree of character arc throughout the decade, Joey was stuck in a bit of a perpetual time-warp, left reading the letter V of the Encyclopedia on garden furniture.
Despite him being the second most popular character on the show behind Chandler – according to one YouGov poll presumably listed on a slow day in the office – Joey was wildly underdeveloped.
But Joey proved so popular the character and his catchphrases became synonymous with Matt LeBlanc’s work and followed him around chat shows and promos like a lost puppy dog.
So, what do you do when you’re resigned to a career being typecast as the highly-sexed Italian bloke with a penchant for pasta and a body slightly less chiselled than Hollywood’s ridiculously unattainable average?
Matt LeBlanc did what any comedic sitcom actor would do: embrace it in the name of laughs and pocket a tidy fee for his self-deprecating efforts.
More importantly, he did it well.
Watching Matt LeBlanc playing Matt LeBlanc struggling to come to terms with his washed up acting career and manoeuvre himself back into the spotlight with battling custody issues, alcoholism and bankruptcy, is voyeurism at its most human.
They say curiosity killed the cat. It also makes for great sitcom ratings.
You might think it’s an insult to tell an actor their best performance required very, very little writing or acting – based on themselves as Matt’s character in Episodes was before it was cruelly cancelled in its fifth season.
But, in fact, the nuance, self-deprecation and awareness involved in portraying an ever-so-slightly differently version of yourself requires an incredible acting flair.
Particularly, enjoy the moment Matt LeBlanc reads to play Matt LeBlanc in a teaser for Episodes:
His admission of his own flaws – mainly encapsulated by his self-confessed huge ego – watched on Showtime and now Netflix by hundreds of thousands of people, was brave in Hollywood, where work depends on reputation.
But this was no courtroom drama as you could expect from a Hollywood show in the era of #MeToo. It’s a comedy, and the humour comes from the fact Matt’s ‘character’ is despicable from the off.
A materialistic Matt sleeps with his stalker who exhibits mental illness, sleeps with his friend’s wife, sleeps with a married woman; sleeps with anyone, in fact.
Meanwhile, the plot sees him gorge on Hollywood gossip and game-playing to serve his ego and bank balance. And he never bats an eyelid.
But does being despicable, if you’re honest about it, mean you’re a bad guy? Well, yes, of course it does – worse, perhaps – but it does make for hilariously squirm-inducing, cringe-worthy watching.
There are a few moments of genuine warmth between the lead characters too, which serve to make all three just likeable enough to keep watching them.
Just check out the season five Episodes trailer for that character arc:
Moreover, Episodes really lifted the veil for us non-Hollywood heathens and opened our square eyes to the mechanisms which bring our favourite shows to TV sets in our front rooms.
It was a brave move for someone so interwoven into Tinseltown and its terrible trappings – but rewarded heartily by the elite when Matt won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Television Series Musical or Comedy and was nominated for four Primetime Emmy Awards.
It was such a success – and career boost – LeBlanc never wanted it to end:
Admitting he doesn’t have ‘much time off anymore’, he told Lorraine the show helped his career:
Episodes was an opportunity to perform some incredible writing and work with some incredible actors. We all watched one another and helped one another and it was a real love fest.
We were a tight-knit group all pushing one another and supporting each other to be the best we could be.
Even his off-screen ‘bromance’ with Stephen Mangan seemed to outshine the forced interaction Matt has since endured with his former FRIENDS co-stars, Jennifer Anniston, Matthew Perry, Courtney Cox, David Schwimmer and Lisa Kudrow.
LeBlanc did get back together with Schwimmer and Kudrow for a short stint on Web Therapy as a guest star as Nick Jericho, an online gambling addict.
His character was the perfect lowkey foil to Kudrow’s shrill therapist, who led the improvisational comedy with slow-witted reactions, while managing to make the plethora of stars who joined in seem even funnier, to some critical acclaim.
Here’s the trailer, which like the show, is more cameo than substance:
With Web Therapy getting mixed reviews – the only saving grace being the improvisation itself – critically, Episodes was a comparative walk in the park to his other projects.
Lest we forget the Bon Jovi music videos, the presenting gig on TopGear, and before then, the post-FRIENDS obvious spin-off route, doomed to fail from the off.
After all, you won’t find many spin-off shows among the greatest sitcoms of all time:
Why? Because it’s not easy to do a spin-off show.
Unless you’re Frasier Crane, who can step seamlessly out of the Cheers bar and into a titular world of high-intellect tomfoolery and japes, forget it.
Don’t, for Pete’s sake, mention Joey:
But, after a short hiatus from the small screen, LeBlanc showed real perseverance after Joey was slammed in the press and returned older, wiser and more humble than before.
Everyone loves an underdog story of resilience. Even more so, everyone loves seeing their favourite multi-millionaires eating some humble pie in the name of art.
Matt will be back with a third season of Man With A Plan over on CBS later this year:
But nothing will succeed his Phoenix from the Ashes performance – as an actor, public figure, former FRIEND and man – in Episodes.
Happy birthday, Matt LeBlanc. You do you.
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