Matt’s new friends are slow burners

Matt LeBlanc
Matt LeBlanc
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In television comedy there are quick hits and slow burns and Episodes (BBC2, 10pm) is definitely in the latter category.

In television comedy there are quick hits and slow burns and Episodes (BBC2, 10pm) is definitely in the latter category.

Matt LeBlanc is one of the most recognisable people on the planet having played the loveably dim actor Joey Tribbiani for over a decade, first in Friends and then its spin-off Joey. So it’s little wonder we all have a preconceived idea of what he’s like.

In Episodes, in which he stars as himself, he plays on the public’s perception.

Written by the co-creator of Friends David Crane, and his partner Jeffrey Klarik, it’s the first project he has signed up to since Joey was cancelled)

Bruised by the experience he decided to take a sabbatical, avoid the Hollywood scene and spend time with his daughter Marina, 6, with model Melissa McKnight, who he married in 2003 and divorced three years later.

He was still sent scripts though: “I’d read them but I just didn’t feel like working,” he says. “My agent was kind of bummed.”

Then Crane and Klarik called him up to ask what he was doing.

“I told them, ‘Nothing really, enjoying my time off’. And they said, ‘We’ve got an idea, let’s get together’.”

The three men met for lunch and pitched the idea for Episodes.

“I had been burnt out playing the same guy for 12 years, but when they told me the idea behind the show I thought, ‘That’s probably going to be good. Yeah, I’ll get off the couch.”

The seven-part series (tonight is part three) follows a British couple, Sean and Beverly (played by Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig, reunited for the first time since Green Wing) who are the writers of hit TV show, Lymon’s Boys.

At an awards ceremony they’re wooed by a US network executive who persuades them to move out to LA and remake their show for an American audience, but things begin to unravel the moment they arrive. It soon becomes clear that the exec has never watched their show and insists on replacing their lead actor, an erudite thespian played by Richard Griffiths, with... Matt LeBlanc.

“Episodes takes the whole Joey persona that I have and meets it head on, it’s really liberating,” says LeBlanc. “People still come up to me and speak slowly, or they’ll ask if I’m OK because I’m a lot more low-key and subdued than Joey Tribbiani was. He was very high energy, high-key. I’m not really like that. I had a lot of coffee when we were shooting Friends.”

LeBlanc admits he had reservations about playing himself: “I didn’t want it to be too much like me because frankly, I’m not very interesting, so we spiced it up a little bit,” he says. “The character is more Matt LeBlanc than Matt LeBlanc, just as the Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm is some evil twin approximation of the real one.

“Here they use the fact that people assume I’m dumb because I played the dumb guy in Friends to manipulate situations to his advantage. And he’s a little more emotionally damaged than I am.

“There’s a scene where I talk about my need to sabotage my own happiness, and another where I admit that I have the inability to appreciate the consequences of my actions. Sometimes I think, “Hmm, that must be another made-up thing!’ but in truth, I’m learning a lot about myself.”