It’s hard to know if Showtime planned to run “Episode 4” the same week Jay Leno is set to sign off (again) from The Tonight Show, but the timing made this week’s storyline particularly funny and, at times, even poignant.
Last week, Carol saved Pucks from cancelation, but now it’s been moved to the TV purgatory that is Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matt, meanwhile, is in his own personal hell: He desperately wants off the show, but instead has been asked to go on Leno to promote the new time slot. Eager to see Pucks fail, Matt refuses until Sean sways him with a guilt trip that cancelation means 150 crew members lose their jobs. (Unfortunately, Sean was powerless to save the real staff of The Tonight Show, who all got pink slips this week.)
Once at the Tonight Show studio, Matt gets even more depressed when he learns he’s booked to go on second, behind Zac Efron. He tells himself it must be Leno’s revenge for the time Matt bought a rare Lamborghini before Leno could get it. And Jay’s certainly still bitter about that. So bitter, in fact, that we as a society are now forever graced with the image of Jay Leno uttering the phrase “you fucking jizz bag.”
But it’s not spite that put Matt in the second-guest slot. Leno gives him the blunt truth: He’s just not the star he once was. “Shit changes,” Leno says. “Believe me.” And in that moment, Episodes did something I thought never could be done: I felt a little sorry for Jay Leno.
In a later scene, fictional Matt laments about how he should have gone out on top after Friends wrapped. The real LeBlanc’s success on Episodes stems from his acceptance that he will always be known as Joey, and ironically, that self-awareness is giving him one of the better post-Friends careers. He’s owning this role in every sense, and it was nice to see Episodes give Leno a small chance to capture that same spirit.
Over in the B story, Merc is back at the network, this time to pitch ideas for new shows. Carol’s nervous about old feelings coming back during the meeting, but she’s reassured knowing Castor will be doing the heavy lifting. Instead, Crazy Castor is locked in his office getting hot and heavy with himself. Because he’s crazy, you see, and his new medication gives him an erection in response to anything and everything—even news coverage about a devastating earthquake in Peru. The juxtaposition of someone jerking off to a report about a woman trapped under rubble can probably be deduced rationally as something comical, but the Castor character is such a misfire for me that I have a hard (ahem) time finding any humor in his scenes.
The fact that Castor’s suddenly on-point when Carol’s around is probably leading up to some ensuing hilarity when she realizes he’s on the 4:05 to Cuckoo Town. But in the meantime, as she opens up to him about Merc and understandably misinterprets the extra firmness of their hug, it feels like she’s just being set up for another emotional fall. Which could be funny, but I’d hate to see them retread ground already well-worn by her relationship with Merc.
Still, this was by far my favorite episode of the season, with fun little touches like Beverly’s soft spot for Hollywood gift bags and Carol’s concern about the character jeopardy in Merc’s pitch for a fantasy horror show about gargoyles. (“Wouldn’t they just stay away from Gothic buildings?”) I also liked seeing Matt and Morning temporarily team up in their seething resentment of young, self-absorbed Stoke as he seeks their advice on what to wear for the A-list telethon he’s been asked to attend. The characters’ casual references to 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina prove that tragedy plus time equals comedy, but the scene also reminds us that for aging actors, the real tragedy is time itself.