Episodes: ‘Dead Show Filming’ in Season 4

Des Willie/Showtime

2015 Preview | Returns Sunday, Jan. 11, 10:30/9:30c, Showtime

You’ve heard of a “dead man walking.” Episodes‘ fourth season is about TV’s equivalent: a dead show filming. When their sad sitcom Pucks! was pulled last season, married British writers Sean and Beverly (Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig), actor Matt (Matt LeBlanc, playing “himself”), and network executive Carol (Kathleen Rose Perkins) were eager to move on. But because of back-room machinations by their ex-boss Merc (John Pankow) to prevent Matt from shooting a promising pilot, they’re all forced to do more episodes—that will likely never air.

“Beverly says, ‘It’s like the groundhog saw his shadow and now we have six more weeks of hell,'” Episodes cocreator David Crane explains. The quip came from experience. The show’s other cocreator, Jeffrey Klarik, vividly recalls working on the Ted Danson–Mary Steenburgen sitcom Ink on its way to the gallows in 1997. “We knew it was dead, and we had to keep going,” Klarik says. “I thought, ‘Why am I killing myself?’ But my name was on it. It was awful.”

In an ironic twist, Perkins guest starred on the CBS sitcom The Millers the week it was axed. “It was bizarre. We started rehearsals Wednesday. Friday, they learned it was canceled. We taped Tuesday,” the actress says. “In some ways, the actors feel free. One said it was their best show. So the final Pucks! installments might be good!”

And even better for Episodes. “In my opinion, the series is at its best when Matt, Sean, and Beverly are together,” says LeBlanc. The three leads have often been divided—on account of Matt’s sleeping with Beverly and temporarily splitting up the writing duo. “Now, they’re all on the same side of an argument. They share the frustration in having to film more.

LeBlanc can relate: His first series, TV 101—which prompted him to relocate to L.A. from New York in 1988—was canned in much the same fashion. “There was a period where we were finishing up an episode after it had been canceled. It’s not a great feeling. Hopefully you have a work ethic and are like, ‘If I’m getting paid to act, I will act.’ But the Matt LeBlanc on Episodes doesn’t share that same feeling.”

Season 4 also starts with Matt losing half his millions, and his panic over the situation spreads to Sean and Beverly. Matt convinces them to start a nest egg by shopping another series to the U.S. networks—which has, given her experience with Pucks!, become Beverly’s nightmare. “He lays a seed of fear in both of them, which Beverly can ignore, but it grows in Sean,” Greig explains. “Once again, the glorious Matt LeBlanc gets them in a corner, much to her ire.”

But Sean latches on to the second chance. “He can’t bear that they failed with Pucks!, something he didn’t even want to do,” Mangan says. “It’s like being turned down for a date by someone you asked out as a favor to their mother. So he’s up for it. He sees the glass as half full. Beverly sees the glass as an idiot.”

Returns Sunday, Jan. 11, 10:30/9:30c, Showtime