“Pucks,” the show within a show at the heart of “Episodes,” has been a shaky proposition ever since the network decided to turn a British boarding school comedy into a sitcom with “Friends” star Matt LeBlanc as a high school hockey coach. Its ratings have never taken off, despite attempts to goose it. Heading into the third season of “Episodes,” “Pucks” is very much on the bubble.
Alas, it has even more challenges to overcome when a new network president takes over from ousted boss Merc Lapidus (John Pankow), and promises big changes.
On the romantic front, British show creators Sean (Stephen Mangan) and Beverly (Tamsin Greig) are trying to get past each other’s romantic activity while separated. LeBlanc’s alter ego, meanwhile, is sparring with Merc over his ongoing relationship with Merc’s blind wife Jamie (Genevieve O’Reilly).
Never mind the fact that Merc was had a five year affair with second in command Carol (Kathleen Rose Perkins).
You don’t have to have inside knowledge of showbiz to enjoy “Episodes,” but it doesn’t hurt, either. The Showtime series is run by David Crane, co-creator of “Friends,” and Jeffrey Klarik, who created “The Class” with Crane and previously worked on hit series such as “Mad About You.” Both know their way around showbiz, and both know how to create light appealing sitcoms.
(“Episodes” being on Showtime, there’s more sex and innuendo than on network counterparts.)
The acting continues to be consistently strong: LeBlanc sputters nicely as a former star whose power is fading but can still turn on the charm; he still seems to be having fun playing against his image in Season 3. Perkins gets more screwball by the episode, while Magnan and Greig ground the comedy nicely as displaced Brits trying to navigate their relationship and Hollywood at the same time.
Will “Pucks” survive the network’s chopping block in Season 3? I won’t spoil it; you’ll have to tune in to find out for yourself. But here are five other things to know about the season getting underway Sunday.
1. Carol must wait longer for her turn running the network.
Network brass decide to bring in Castor Soto (Chris Diamantopoulos) to run things instead of Carol. In stereotypically brutal fashion, she finds out about her new boss through a leak in the Hollywood trades.
2. Merc doesn’t handle his ouster well.
Did you really think he would?
3. Magnan and LeBlanc have the best rapport in the show, followed by Greig and Perkins.
These pairings of opposites really work. Sean and Beverly both seem to have a lot more fun when they’re gossiping with Carol and Matt than when they’re in scenes together. As before, there are plenty of scenes of the pals blowing off steam together.
5. Matt’s stalker isn’t completely out of the picture.
It’s not what you think.
“Episodes” Season 3 premieres 10:30 p.m. Sunday on Showtime.