If you ever find yourself in a position to have Matt LeBlanc recite his favorite lines or completely re-enact classic scenes from "Friends," I highly recommend you take advantage. I found it hard to believe that he could even rattle off lines from this season of "Episodes" (Season 2 premieres Sun., July 1, 10:30 p.m. ET on Showtime), let alone spout dialogue from almost a decade ago ... but that he did.
I caught up with LeBlanc, who plays Matt LeBlanc, a fictionalized version of himself in Showtime's series about the making of another series called "Pucks." Last season's cliffhanger finale -- which involved the fictional LeBlanc bedding one-half of a married couple (played by the hilarious Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan), who are in fact his new TV bosses -- was messy, to say the least.
Season 2 finds him still in the thick of that "super awkward dynamic," with some interesting new distractions, including a very memorable hand job scene, a stalker and a side of famous actors we don't often see: rejection. Keep reading for more on where "Episodes" is heading next ("Someone from 'Friends' is on," LeBlanc teases) and to see which scene from "Friends" -- a show he still remembers as "an ego-free, great environment" -- I had the pleasure of re-living.
"Episodes" seems to have really found its footing. Season 1 ended strong, and this continues that momentum.
When you're a new show, you have a lot of exposition to deal with, and I think we've sort of gotten all of that out of the way. The people that are watching kind of know where the characters are and what the story is and the world that they live in, so with two more episodes in the second season -- nine versus seven [in Season 1] -- it gives us a little more room. And also with the lightened load of exposition, I think it gives us more room to develop characters, and for the support cast, there's a lot more to do. It's opened up the world a little more.
Last season's finale was incredibly messy -- what can you tease about where things pick back up?
Right? So at the outset, there's this super awkward dynamic that we're all trying to navigate, and we have this common goal to get this show running and make this television show that's ... it's just a disaster.
Poor "Pucks"! Holy hell, it really is bad.
It's so bad.
But I think even "Matt LeBlanc," as clueless as they've made him, realizes that it's not a great show.
Right. You know what's interesting about it, too? The way the writers have sort of crafted the "Pucks" character, that's the kind of character that the networks have tried to get me to come back and play. The network in the show has tried to get the Matt LeBlanc in the show to sort of play something that's close to Joey, which I think is an interesting spin. So the Matt LeBlanc within the show that is the actor that plays the character on "Pucks" -- if you can follow me -- is sort of reaping the rewards of having played that character on "Friends."
There was a great line from John Pankow, who plays the network head Merc, like "Oh, it's your first show since 'Friends'!" People seem to forget the other stuff.
[Laughs.] And Matt's like, "Okay ..."
When I watch this show, and especially now seeing more of what "Pucks" is this season, I do imagine that that's the kind of role people wanted you for before you got "Episodes."
Yeah, there's some of that, but it doesn't seem to be as blatant as what we've scripted in the show. I think that character on "Friends" is gonna follow me around forever and that's fine. That's a sign of being part of something that was that popular, I guess.
There are worse fates for an actor ...
Yeah, I mean having to go to work at a waiter's job is probably worse.
There's another great line in the third episode where Matt says something to Morning (Mircea Monroe) about her level of fame ...
Oh yeah, that was a great line -- on the way to the funeral. "Kind of playing fast and loose with the word 'famous.'" [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] How do you remember all of this? Didn't you shoot this months ago?
I was in London from mid-October until February. But, I mean, if it's great, huge, super lines like that, they tend to stand out, you know?
Like getting a handjob in a screening of "Pucks," then proclaiming that getting jerked off while you're watching yourself on TV is the kind of thing actors work their whole lives for?
Yeah, that's the clip we used on "The Tonight Show" the other night, and I couldn't believe that they let that clip go on. Jay [Leno] loves the show -- he really went above and beyond plugging the show. I was shocked at how big a fan ... he watched them all in one sitting, he said. That's what I did when I got them -- I watched them all at once.
You watch yourself?
I watch everything once. I don't, like, sit and watch it over and over and over again, like Gabe Kaplan, I heard, used to do. I heard he used to just watch "Welcome Back, Kotter" reruns like on a loop in his house. It was just always on.
That's maybe the most depressing story I've ever heard.
[Laughs.] Kind of sad, yeah. I mean, I watch everything I do to see how it came out. And, you know, "Friends" is on so often that if I'm channel surfing, I'll see which one it was, and if it was one of my favorite ones, I might watch it.
So you have favorites, too? Because everyone does.
Yeah, I have some favorite ones. Like any of the ones with the turkey on my head -- those are all pretty funny. The maternity pants, getting locked in the entertainment unit when the house got robbed, the baby on the bus was a good one. And when I got the hernia, that was a funny one. That one had one of my favorite lines of all time.
Please, do share.
Chandler comes in and I'm all doubled up on the floor and he says, "Shouldn't you be on the toilet right now." And I said, "No, no, I was lifting weights before and I blacked out, and when I came to I got this thing sticking out of my side. I got this sharp pain, and now I can't really get up." He goes, "You should go to the doctor, that sounds like a hernia." And I go, "No way -- if I go to the doctor for anything it's going to be for this thing sticking out of my side." And he goes, "That's a hernia! You've gotta go to the doctor!" And I look at the dumbbells on the floor [laughs] and I say, "Damn you, 15!" [Laughs.] I couldn't get through it with a straight face. "Damn you, 15!"
The fact that you can quote an entire scene from "Friends" as easily as you can spout lines from "Episodes" is rare.
And there's some great lines in "Episodes." Have you met the stalker yet? I won't spoil it for you, but there's a great line to her right as I'm ... I won't say anything.
When you sat and watched them, did you have a favorite episode this season? Maybe one you think fans will really like?
With "Episodes," my favorite ones are always toward the end of the season because there's an emotional through-line that carries through the whole season -- it's almost like a soap opera in that sense -- so the storylines have all built to a crescendo at the end of the season, and those episodes seem to be the richest, character-wise and story-wise. You're more invested by that point.
We see a slightly different side of Matt LeBlanc this season, for as shallow as he still is. Do you feel like Matt LeBlanc has gotten even weirder this season?
I don't know if it's weirder ... I think what happens is he starts to feel, I guess, sorry for himself as they start to take the focus of "Pucks" away from him, and he sees that this isn't helping get his career back on track like he'd hoped. He kind of throws in the towel a bit and starts drinking too much and eating too much -- he just doesn't care about anything anymore. He goes into this downward spiral that was kind of interesting to play with. To find the comedy in that was fun.
Are we going to get a fat Matt LeBlanc?
[Laughs.] There are moments when I wonder how much is pulled from your real experiences in Hollywood, but then there are such ridiculous stories and scenes that I just sit back and appreciate the comedy of it all. He tells this amazing story about being at Orson Welles' funeral, and a woman named Gloria Heywood ...
That's a great monologue! That's the brilliance of their writing -- they use this big, long, elaborate, colorful, structured set-up for a joke about crabs. [Laughs.] They're so clever. You do not see that punchline coming. You think it's this super poignant speech about how fleeting fame is, and then, "I learned a valuable lesson that day ... how to get rid of crabs."
Exactly. But I think with so many "Friends" references, sometimes you forget to remember it's fake.
Yeah, but if any show is going to make a reference to "Friends," I feel like this one has the right to, because it's David Crane writing it, and I'm in it and I'm playing the guy who was on "Friends." So it's almost like this built-in right that you can kind of blur the line of the truth a little bit here and there and make people wonder, "Wait a minute -- did that really happen? Or was that fake?" You know what I mean? We have this ability to fudge the line a little bit, which has been fun to play with.
What's next for you?
I think I'm being choosier. I start this movie in a couple of weeks, this romantic comedy, and that'll be fun. It's with this director Luke Matheny -- he won the Academy Award last year [for Best Short Film for "God of Love"] and he's a super nice guy. It's called "Lovesick," and it's myself and Ali Larter, and I believe we have Chevy Chase to play my creepy neighbor who hangs out in his robe all day and watches pornos while eating cereal. I watched Luke's movie that he won the Academy Award for and to look at that on paper, you'd say, "This is a silly idea" -- this guy finds some magic arrows to make this girl fall in love with him -- but he injected it with so much heart and emotion and creativity.
And this film that we're doing could easily be a big, broad comedy, but that's not what we're going to go for. It's a clever little project. My concern is it turning into this thing that happens so often -- this little, small movie that has no pressure on it, then it gets cast and the expectations get higher, but the budget doesn't get any higher. I hope that doesn't happen with this, because I think it's an opportunity to make a really nice, warm little movie.
"Episodes" Season 2 premieres Sun., July 1, 10:30 p.m. ET on Showtime.
Excited for "Episodes"? See our gallery of other notable "behind-the-scenes" TV shows.
"The Larry Sanders Show," 1992-1998
Hey now! A peerless satire of the egos that populate late-night TV, "Larry Sanders" is one of the gold standards of the behind-the-scenes genre. The show didn't just lampoon the characters' grandiosity and feuds, it took the time to show us their insecurities and the tangled histories of their fractured relationships as well. The parade of famous faces who guested as themselves helped create a realistic vibe, and cast members Garry Shandling, Jeffrey Tambor, Janeane Garofalo, Rip Torn, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Penny Johnson and Jeremy Piven did some of the best work of their careers on this consistently excellent show. It's available on DVD and Netflix Instant.
"30 Rock," 2006-Present
An absurd, amusing trip through the backstage of a late-night comedy program, "30 Rock" still manages to find humor in the confident arrogance of Jack Donaghy, the insecurity and tenacity of Liz Lemon and the straight-up but somehow lovable crazy of Tracy Morgan. The show's not necessarily a model of consistency and the characters don't really deepen over time, but "30 Rock" supplies a steady stream of knowing one-liners, subversive media criticism and pop-culture-infused comedy. If nothing else, we can thank the show for reminding us to never go with a hippie to a second location and to live every week like it's Shark Week.
"The Dick Van Dyke Show," 1961-1966
What is there to say about this classic? Except that if you haven't seen the writers for the fictional "Alan Brady Show" at work, then you're missing out on an essential part of American television history. A snappy pace, erudite humor, surreal excursions, smart dialogue and a gifted ensemble -- this Carl Reiner creation had everything you'd want in a backstage comedy. And as comedy writer/director <a href="http://kenlevine.blogspot.com/2010/08/dick-van-dyke-at-his-very-best.html" target="_hplink">Ken Levine once observed</a>, "People think of 'The Dick Van Dyke Show' as a sophisticated comedy and it certainly was. But the show also featured plenty of inspired slapstick. For all his many gifts, Dick Van Dyke is a truly brilliant physical comedian. And Mary Tyler Moore ain't bad either." And the show's not hard to find: It's on Hulu, Netflix Instant and YouTube.
"WKRP in Cincinnati," 1978-1982
There was a late-'70s coolness to this show, a laid-back yet mildly rebellious vibe that would be impossible to replicate now. This fine comedy followed the staff of a radio station in the title city, and it's a testament to the versatile cast that I remember Venus Flytrap, Andy Travis, Dr. Johnny Fever, Herb Tarleck, Jennifer Marlowe and the inimitable Les Nessman as well as I do today. "WKRP" captured the rock 'n' roll feel of the '70s and still had a little whiff of '60s-style bohemianism, and I'm betting if you're of a certain age, you can still hum the theme tune. Thanks to music licensing issues, only Season 1 is out on DVD (but the good news is, that entire season is available on Hulu as well).
"The Newsroom" (Canada), 1996-1997 & 2003-2005
Before Aaron Sorkin came along, Canadian Ken Finkleman created this dry comedy, which poked knowing fun at a network news program, its perks-obsessed executive producer and its pompous, self-absorbed anchor. As I wrote when it aired on some PBS stations several years ago, "Being in the news industry helps one appreciate 'The Newsroom's' merciless take on the narcissism and ineptitude of some journalists, but it's not necessary. An appreciation for bone-dry satire will suffice." "Newsroom" DVDs are available via Netflix, and you can also find full episodes on YouTube.
"The Mary Tyler Moore Show," 1970-1977
This show would have been groundbreaking simply for its subject matter -- a single woman committed to her career at a time when such characters were rare on television -- but the show's depiction of the goofball ad hoc family at at a Minneapolis news station is what puts it firmly in the "classic" category. "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" is peerless character-driven comedy, it's simple as that. Not only did Mary Richards' fellow tenants (Phyllis Lindstrom and Rhoda Morganstern, who launched her own spinoff) make the home front memorable, her co-workers -- Lou Grant, Sue Ann Nivens, Murray Slaughter and the blowhard anchor Ted Baxter, among others -- are some of the most indelible TV characters of all time. It's out on DVD, but many episodes have also been posted on YouTube.
"The Hour," 2011-Present
Set among television journalists trying to create one of the U.K.'s first serious news broadcasts, "The Hour" is stylish, atmospheric and smart, if occasionally a little too ambitious for its own good (the first season's spy plot got a bit convoluted). But it's well worth watching and not just because Dominic West (who plays the plummy anchor Hector Madden) looks pretty damned swell in a retro suit. The entire ensemble is excellent, and like the great U.K. miniseries "State of Play," this drama actually gives you a good idea of how much fun it can be to work with other bright, ambitious newshounds. Season 1 is worth tracking down on DVD, and Season 2 arrives on BBC America later this year.
"Slings and Arrows" (Canada), 2003-2006
"Slings" follows a theater troupe attempting to stage Shakespearean classics, along with more commercial fare, and if there's a little too much about the relationship between wild-man director Geoffrey Tennant (Paul Gross) and actress Ellen Fanshaw (Martha Burns), that's easy to forgive, given how many other priceless characters and stories "Slings" offers. Cast members Gross, Don McKellar (as an uber-pretentious director) and Mark McKinney from "Kids in the Hall" are among the sensational players in the core cast, and Rachel McAdams, Colm Feore, Sarah Polley and the awe-inspiring Shakespearean actor Richard Hutt rotate in for terrific seasonal runs. This show is not only witty and knowing, it helps you understand why these people give their hearts and everything else to the theater, and Hutt as Lear will make you weep. It's on YouTube and Netflix Instant.
"Extras" (UK), 2005-2007
The first season of this show was more or less Ricky Gervais prevailing upon famous fans of the U.K. "Office" to do an episode of his subsequent show, which followed the cramped life of an extra who dreamed of big-time showbiz success. The second season of "Extras" was something else altogether; a much more substantial show that was filled with pathos, rage and razor-sharp humor as Andy Millman (Gervais) actually achieved his dreams, possibly at the cost of his humanity. Also, this awards-ceremony scene has me laugh until I cried more than once.
One of the most underrated comedies of its era (or any era), this NBC show had a terrific cast and a wonderfully askew vibe; the best seasons of "The Office" and "Parks and Recreation" owe this show a great deal. NBC always treated the show badly, but, if anything, the show's reputation has only grown over time. Speaking of time, there's no better use of yours than heading over to Hulu to watch complete episodes. And if you are able watch Jimmy James read from his autobiography in this clip without laughing, I don't want to know you.