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Arts and Entertainment

TV Junkie: 2 New Series from Showtime Worth Watching in January

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Stephen Mangan, Matt LeBlanc, and Tamsin Greig star in Showtime's "Episodes" which premieres on January 16th at 9:30pm

Stephen Mangan, Matt LeBlanc, and Tamsin Greig star in Showtime's "Episodes" which premieres on January 16th at 9:30pm
Showtime will be premiering several new series this Winter including "Shameless" and "Episodes." "Shameless," starring William H. Macy, will premiere on Sunday, January 9th at 10pm. Showtime's series is an adaptation of a British series of the same name, set in Chicago rather than the Manchester of the original. Macy plays the unemployed alcoholic single dad with six kids or seven kids, Frank Gallagher. We say six or seven because there are so many that we can't keep count in the first couple episodes we've seen. To call Frank Gallagher a "dad" is quite a stretch as he does his best to be a completely irresponsible, drunken, non-parent, that spends his entire disability check at the nearby watering hole, where, incidentally, he also drinks the dregs of other drinks and anything else he can get his hands on. His children are watched over by their protective oldest sister, Fiona, played by Emmy Rossum. The pilot revolves around the disappearance of Frank after a precipitous night of debauchery. The family rallies in their search to find him but it's a shame that our lead is gone for a significant chunk of the action.

William H. Macy is great as Frank and he commands every scene that he's in with any character other than Sheila, the ex-wife of one of his drinking buddies, played by Joan Cusack, who decides to take Frank under her wing and embark on an incredibly kinky relationship. So Sheila and Frank are great but will we get enough of them, what with the enormous brood of kids, their friends and significant others? Will the rest of the ensemble be able to hold up to the performances of these two veterans? This remains to be seen. Since it's Showtime, they are certain to show all the episodes so if you choose to stick with the program the potential to be rewarded is there. At the very least, definitely watch the pilot on January 9th, we were very entertained.

Showtime's "Episodes" also has a UK connection, this one steeped in irony as the show is not a remake of a British show, but is about a British show being adapted for American television. Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan star as Beverly and Sean Lincoln, the British creators and producers of an award-winning show called "Lyman's Boys" that Merc Lapidus, the American network president played by John Pankow, wants to adapt for US audiences. Through typical network executive interference the Lincoln's find their quaint British show mutated beyond their control, culminating in the casting of Matt LeBlanc in the lead role. LeBlanc plays a version of himself that is cynical yet organic and very amusing - we enjoyed him in this much more than anything he did in his friends spin-off "Joey." Combined with the very capable Greig and Mangan are the very subtle Kathleen Rose Perkins, who plays network second-in-command Carol Rance, and the very beautiful Mircea Monroe who plays Morning Randolph, a kind of brassy Norma Cassady type character who has survived Hollywood by being anything but a dumb blonde.

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I've seen the entire season of "Episodes" and thought it was great - it's one of those 1/2 hour comedies that is always "on" with very few down moments, it's constantly building on every joke. The fact that it was a comedy about TV was icing on the cake for us because we are devoted TV nerds. The question is whether or not people will give this show a chance. Showtime obviously wants to attract sentimental fans of "Friends" in the hopes of getting the kinds of numbers that the other-post-"Friends" show, "Cougar Town," is getting on ABC. The big difference here is that "Episodes" is much more edgy and much better written. What complicates this difference is that LeBlanc is playing a self-aware version of himself that "Friends" fans might not like. He's not negative about "Friends" but he's aware of how he and his character fit into the menu of TV offerings back in the day. He understands that he is brought on board as the lead of "Lyman's Boys" to make the show palatable for mass consumption which is what Showtime is doing with "Episodes."

Does anyone remember Lisa Kudrow's "The Comeback" on HBO? That was a mockumentary portraying a former sitcom star attempting to make it on another primetime sitcom. Unfortunately for "The Comeback" (which has been in running on Sundance recently), despite critical acclaim and multiple Emmy Award (and others) nominations the show had low ratings and was cancelled after one set of 13 episodes. I hope that "Episodes" is given more of a chance as the first season is a perfect set of acts well worthy of an addition. "Episodes" premieres on January 16th at 9:30pm.

Another aspect of this pair of shows is that neither are focused on a single woman operating in extreme circumstances, a recent trait of Showtime's 1/2 hour offerings that was parodied on "Saturday Night Live." "Nurse Jackie" features an ER nurse with an addiction to prescription medication, "The United States of Tara" features a woman with multiple personality disorder, "Weeds" features a drug dealing mom, "The Big C" features a woman in denial about her fatal cancer diagnosis, etc. The addition of "Shameless" and "Episodes" to the Showtime mix is a good thing.
We heard from G4 that, contrary to our post last week, "Web Soup" will be returning to the network sometime this coming Spring - no premiere date has been set. This is a relief as we enjoyed the format of the show and had been concerned about the lack of new episodes which was key to it being so topical.
The TV Junkie Must-Watch Plan: "Dirty Jobs," "Glory Daze," Charlie Rose (director Alejandro González Iñárritu; actor Javier Bardem)

9:00pm The 33rd Annual Kennedy Center Honors CBS - Singer-songwriter Merle Haggard, composer Jerry Herman, choreographer Bill T. Jones, musician Paul McCartney and TV host Oprah Winfrey receive recognition in the annual ceremony.

9:00pm Dirty Jobs Discovery - Date Palm Pollenator Mike answers viewer mail; collecting pollen from male date palm pods to fertilize the female trees.

10:00pm Glory Daze TBS - Joel tries dating to forget about Christie; Brian tries to spend time with Annabel; Jason asks Julie to the Fall Formal

11:30pm Charlie Rose PBS/KCET - Director Alejandro González Iñárritu; actor Javier Bardem.