When last we left the gang on "Episodes," the Showtime comedy starring "Friends" alum Matt LeBlanc as Matt LeBlanc (or rather, a very exaggerated version thereof), Matt had gotten beaten up by his network boss, Merc, whose blind wife is having an affair with Matt.
"Pucks" — the show-within-the-show on which Matt stars — continued to perform poorly in the ratings, but showrunners Beverly and Sean (marrieds who split up when she had an affair with his BFF ... Matt) had gotten back together. So, when Season 3 of the hit comedy — LeBlanc won his first Golden Globe for the show's debut season — returns to the cable network on January 12 ...
Well, we'll let series creators David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik, the real-life couple who've earned two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Writing on "Episodes," spill the details, as they did during a chat with Yahoo TV this week.
So Beverly and Sean are back together. Where do we start off with everyone else at the beginning of Season 3?
Jeffrey Klarik: First of all, we're waiting to see if Carol will replace Merc [John Pankow]. That's the way it sounded at the end of the second season. It looked as if [network head] Elliot Salad [Michael Brandon] had kind of offered her the job. Even though she turned it down, now that she's clearly on the outs with Merc ... the only reason she turned it down was because she didn't want to hurt Merc. Now she doesn't have to worry about that. Will she, in fact, throw her hat back in the ring? Will she get that job?
And what can you reveal about this new character played by Chris Diamantopoulos ("Three Stooges")?
JK: He's going to complicate things for Carol.
David Crane: We don't want to give too much away.
JK: Right, but he's going to come into the picture and sort of complicate things for Carol.
DC: On a lot of levels.
He's so underrated. Did you write the character for him?
JK: No, no. We wrote the character [first]. We looked at many, many people. He actually didn't even come in to read. He sent us a tape, and we just looked at each other and said, "Oh my God." That's exactly what we were picturing. Wait until you see. He does such great work. He's so good and funny and dark.
And what about Merc? He was fired, but he's not out of the picture, is he?
DC: No, no, no, Merc won't go away quietly. That's for sure.
JK: First of all, he wants to get Jamie back, because it's going to cost him half his money. He's in there fighting for Jamie [Genevieve O'Reilly], and he is still so angry at Matt. All that male pride. Even though he dislocated Matt's shoulder at the end of the second season, that's not enough. He wants to destroy him.
Merc must feel like the gift that keeps on giving, as writers.
JK: He does. Now, we've spent two seasons with him in a position of power. It was so much fun to explore what happens to those guys when they lose that power. One of the fun things this season is that Merc is forced to come back to the network to pitch some story ideas. Part of his exit package was that he was going to be able to get a show on the network. So he has to come back and pitch to Myra [Daisy Haggard] and Carol and Andy [Joseph May].
DC: It's really uncomfortable for Carol, but Andy and Myra hate him. He fired Andy once, so there's a lot of baggage there.
Where is Matt this season?
DC: He continues his relationship with Jamie. It actually starts to grow into a serious relationship, and it's very nice to see him with an adult, not an 18 year-old stalker. You know what I mean? She grounds him, and it's really kind of sweet. They enjoy one another's company. You start to think, "OK, this is good."
JK: Maybe he's more of an adult than we thought he was. Maybe he's capable of more. That's really the question of the season. Can he sustain it? Professionally, because "Pucks" is just on a downward spiral. It's Matt on a show that is not doing well. What can they do to save it? What can he do to try to save it? What's it like to be someone who was a big star on a big hit show, and who is now on "Pucks"?
"Pucks" is still chugging along, then?
JK: They're still on every week. And Carol arranges to move it away from the talking-dog show. The talking dog is just killing it. No matter what's opposite [the talking-dog show], it's just deadly.
Is Morning back on "Pucks"?
JK: Oh, yeah, Morning is back, and she does some great work — Mircia Monroe does some of her best work this year. We meet her sister later on in the season. Her sister's name is Dawn. They're Dawn and Morning. As Sean said, her parents had a whole range of idea. And it is kind of frightening to think of Morning's sister and Matt on the same stage…
DC: Nothing good can come out of it.
Obviously Matt is playing a very exaggerated, over-the-top version of Matt LeBlanc, but have there been things that you've asked him to do with the character that he's kind of said, "Oh, that's a little too far"?
DC: No, never. The opposite. He'll suggest something and say something [he wants to do with the character], and we'll say, "No, you can't do that. We've got to protect you. No." He says, "Oh, but that's funny." We're like, "It is funny, but no." He's fearless and is willing to do anything for a laugh.
When he looks at all the scripts, we still hold our breath a little bit when we send them to him, waiting for the phone call where he goes, "You guys…" and it never comes. He's always supportive and game for anything. Matt can get away with stuff that I don't think anybody else could. There's that twinkle in his eye ... there's stuff that we've done with his character which, in other hands, would just be appalling. Somehow you still love him.
You write every episode, you're there for filming of every episode, you're editing every episode … this show must be all-consuming for the two of you.
DC: That's exactly right. It's a 52 week job.
Do you ever just look at each other and say, "No, don't even mention the word 'Episodes' to me today"?
JK: I think I kind of send that out. [Laughing.] He doesn't always get it. When we were leaving with the edit on Friday night — we finished editing [Season 3] Friday night — everybody there was saying, "Oh, now you guys can take a breather." We walked to the car, and as soon as we got into the car, we said, "What about if next season…" We started to be like, "This could happen and that could happen." It's pretty hard for us to turn it off.
It's obviously a labor of love, the material, these great characters you've created…
JK: It's a nice feeling. It's a nice feeling to have a bunch of actors that we don't have to tiptoe around when we're writing. We know whatever we give them, they're going to make it even better. That's a great feeling.
Was that a criterion during the casting process?
JK: No, the casting process, I always liken it to Cinderella's glass slipper. You never know what the chemistry is going to be. When we started feeling sort of safe [was] when Stephen Mangan tested with Matt [LeBlanc], and I looked at David and said, "Oh, Jesus, this is Chandler and Joey good." There was just this amazing connection between the two of them. Then seeing Tamsin [Greig] with Stephen, and they had worked together before, and they had this whole personal history which they brought to it … for us it really feels like, when you put them together, they feel like they've been married for years. That's the thing. Tamsin had this immediate chemistry with Matt as well as Stephen. Then when we brought in Kathleen Perkins to play Carol, she and Tamsin had this amazing chemistry.
DC: When we started, we didn't imagine that Carol and Beverly would turn out to be best friends, which is actually a lot of the fun of this third season. It really comes into its own, that relationship. It's tough, because Carol has an agenda. Even though she considers Beverly a friend, she's still a suit. It's very hard to switch between friend and blood-sucking network executive, as Beverly calls her.
When you created the show, did you have a path in mind, where you wanted the show or the characters or the show within the show to end up at a certain place? Or has it changed as it's gone along?
JK: I think it's all a dream, and that will come out at the end. (Laughing) No, I don't think we did. Originally, we were going to do seven episodes, and that would be our little adventure. We kind of left it open in case, but we never thought about the show catching on and getting multiple seasons. Also, I think there is a certain point where you have some ideas in your head, but then the show starts to tell you where it wants to go. Like that Carol and Beverly relationship … suddenly you see those two actresses together, and you go, "I want more of that. That would be fun."
Certainly the Matt-Sean relationship, they're so great together that it's like, "Let's see more of that kind of thing." Each of the couples ... Beverly has the same kind of weird relationship with Matt. There's a very prickly dance that they do. They're really very fond of each other, but there's also this thing that happened between the two of them that they struggle to get past.
Also, the Sean-Beverly relationship — it's been really interesting for us to explore that marriage. How do they recover from infidelity, from what she did with Matt? At the end of the last season, we brought them back together. Even though they want to, that's not necessarily an easily accomplished thing, to suddenly go, "All right, everything that happened, forget about it. We're back together. Everything is fine now."
For both Seasons 1 and 2 you had one director do the whole season. Is that true of Season 3 as well?
DC: Yes, we have to do it that way, because we shoot out of order. It's shot like a movie. We crossboard the whole season, so that we shoot out each set. In any given day, you'll be shooting a scene from Episode 1, 5, 8, and 9. [And] it's nice to have the same director because you develop a rapport and relationship. Ian McDonald was our director this season. He's just great and a lovely, lovely guy to work with. You don't have that thing you'll often have on a show where each week it's a new director and you've got to develop a new language and a way of speaking and communicating. I think, for us, from a writing standpoint, more important is that we write all the episodes in advance, so we have a real sort of clear idea of what the whole season is going to be. We're able to be on the set 24/7. We can watch every single moment. We can rewrite on the spot. We're not stuck in a room. We really are very hands-on from start to finish.
How much, if at all, do Beverly and Sean's personalities mirror yours as the showrunners?
DC: Other than the breasts, I am Beverly.
"Episodes" Season 3 premiers on Showtime on Jan. 12, 2014.
- Matt LeBlanc