bestof2014-21

Every day between now and Christmas morning, we’ll share the twenty-five stories that engaged, enchanted, amused and amazed us the most in 2014. If you missed them, now’s your chance to catch up; if you’re looking for a gift for the wonk in your life, then these are our most enthusiastic recommendations!

Today, Episodes.

There’s a lot to like about Episodes. It has a strong premise — two award-winning British comedy writers are hired to write a dumbed-down bastardization of their hit show — and sharp, incisive writing that never fails to find the interesting perspective on a character’s vulnerability. It has Stephen Mangan, who is delightful, and Tamsin Greig, who is a national treasure and should, by every right and order in the universe, be the next Doctor Who. It has a strong supporting cast, a willingness to aim its jokes a little higher than comparable network sitcoms, and a real sense of style and panache.

(To be fair, there’s also a lot to dislike: not only does its title make it nigh-impossible to Google, there’s some sophomoric satire of the Hollywood machine, sudden twists into gross-out humor, and a certain lackadaisical pace that leaves the season-long conflicts less taut than they should be.)

But let’s be honest. There’s one reason that you need to watch Episodes, and it’s Matt LeBlanc’s performance as Matt LeBlanc. It’s not unknown for actors to play heightened versions of themselves — Louis CK, Larry David — but the amazing thing about LeBlanc is the sheer warmth that radiates from him. This isn’t a slow, uncomfortable comedy about the tears of the clown; this is a show predicated on his enormous and convincing charm, energy and enthusiasm. That’s not to say that it isn’t awkward at times, or that it doesn’t deal with real emotional fall-out, but LeBlanc absolutely anchors both Episodes and the execrable show-within-a-show, Pucks!, with an intelligent, winning performance.

The third season, which aired in January of this year, was probably the show’s most confident and assured to date, while also delivering the worst and most agonizing sub-plot I’ve seen in years. The fourth season begins in early January 2015, which gives you just enough time to devour the first three seasons and jump on to the best show that no-one is talking about!

Get it now: Episodes.