Home Comedy Episodes – Star Tamsin Greig and Executive Producer Jimmy Mulville talk pussy-whipped

Episodes – Star Tamsin Greig and Executive Producer Jimmy Mulville talk pussy-whipped

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Episodes - Tamsin Grieg
Beverley Lincoln (Tamsin Grieg) © 2011 Showtime

Showtime’s new comedy Episodes, created and written by David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik, is a co-production with the BBC in England. London-based Jim Mulville serves as Executive Producer of the series which takes an ironic look at how a popular fictional British sitcom named Lyman’s Boys is lost in translation when it is remade for American TV.

Respected actress Tamsin Grieg plays Beverly Lincoln in the series, the producer/creator, along with her husband Sean (Stephen Mangan) of the British sitcom making a rocky adjustment to US television. All seems to be going well until Matt LeBlanc is brought on broad to star in the show, changing almost everything about it.

I spoke with Jim Mulville and Tamsin Greig about their new series.

Tell us a little about your take on the show.

Episodes - Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Grieg
Sean Lincoln (Stephen Mangan) and Beverley Lincoln (Tamsin Grieg) © 2011 Showtime

Jimmy Mulville: It’s about the journey of taking an English hit show to America and, believe it or not, things can go wrong …and they do! The whole show is about a triangle. Beverly and Sean come to Hollywood. He wants to go there. She’s reluctant, but she loves him. So she goes and they try and make this work. Enter Matt LeBlanc. There the triangle is formed, and it’s about that really.

It’s a comedy about these three brilliant characters, very beautifully drawn, and [the people at the network] all conspire to make a mess of these people’s lives. So a marriage goes through a real crisis, and the backdrop is this crazy world of network TV, which apparently Jeffrey and David know quite well.

What are the key differences in Sean and Beverly’s personalities?

Tamsin Greig: I’ve totally stolen this line from David and Jeffrey, but it’s a great line to describe the difference between them. Sean’s character sees life as the glass half full, and Beverly sees the glass is an idiot. I really wish I’d thought that up. And if I look at you really hard, you’ll think that I did. But I didn’t.

Beverly is just horrified at the difference out here [in Hollywood], and Sean is delighted by it. And therein lies the comedy and the horror.

What gets lost in translation, because British shows very rarely translate over here when they get remade?

Episodes - Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Grieg
Sean Lincoln (Stephen Mangan) and Beverley Lincoln (Tamsin Grieg) © 2011 Showtime

Jimmy Mulville: You know what? I think they’ve used that as a template. I think it’s about the crass interference in the creative process by people who are not really concerned with what’s funny, but what’s going to play and what’s going to sell.

John Pankow brilliantly plays the head of the network, and he has an attention span of about 15 seconds. All the work is done by his assistant, and between them they conspire to make each wrong decision.

Part of producing is to get your baby through the labyrinth, without it become completely destroyed, and onto the air. But the heart of the show is the marriage of Sean and Beverly, which goes through an incredible crisis while they’re dealing with the madness of being in Hollywood, just going to parties and having to make nice and saying the right thing to the right people.

Tamsin and Stephen have huge reputations back in the UK, and I think they’re going to really break out in America with this.

Are you worried that the series being about TV will have a limited audience?

Episodes - Tamsin Grieg and Stephen Mangan
Beverley Lincoln (Tamsin Grieg) and Sean Lincoln (Stephen Mangan) © 2011 Showtime

Tamsin Greig: I think generally people think that the television and film industry is rather like looking into a badly run crash, and who wouldn’t be interested in that? But what part of life doesn’t look like a badly run crash? And maybe that’s why it’s interesting, funny and dramatic.

What’s really interesting about the show is that they’re looking into the psychology of gambling. These executives don’t know what’s funny in the same way nobody really could tell you what’s funny. It’s a gamble. We don’t know what the outcome is. There’s so much money and so much pressure involved. They’re all trying to find out where the Holy Grail is. And if you don’t know the answer, there is panic in everyone’s eyes.

Jimmy Mulville: This show is about the characters. I have a description for an Episodes’ moment. We have a very painful moment, a very truthful moment, and then a fantastic laugh at the end of it.

I’ve read a lot of scripts and when David and Jeffrey give me their scripts I just can’t put them down. My wife even says to me, ‘You’re actually laughing at these scripts.’ Because often you read comedy scripts, and it’s hard to raise a laugh. These are laugh-out-loud funny, but beautifully drawn characters.

Do you understand the American jokes in it?

Tamsin Greig: There were some lines that are brilliant for an American audience that don’t work on my side of the pond. There was a great line which included the words Algonquin Round Table, which the [writers] thought was hilarious and is, but when you live in England you don’t know what it is. I know what round means. I know what table means sometimes, but put the three together, and I don’t understand the joke. And so one of their favorite lines had to go, which was a shame.

Jimmy Mulville: Also we had a very in-depth analytical conversation about whether pussy-whipped would play in the UK, and we had to [ask] the crew. Most of the crew had heard of the words ‘pussy’ and ‘whipped,’ but never together. And so we’ve got something very valuable from America. The expression ‘pussy-whipped’ now is in England. It’s seeded over there now!