In the Season 4 finale of “Episodes” — the last entry we’ll see until the final season hits in 2017 — Matt LeBlanc and his friend, Sean Lincoln, are sitting at a bar, mourning his upcoming gig as a game show host. Titled “The Box,” the new series asks seven contestants (or “idiots,” as LeBlanc calls them) to spend 17 weeks trapped inside a glass cube for the chance at fame and fortune. By remaining inside, they earn points that can be used to make their stay easier (i.e., a sandwich) or make their opponents’ lives harder (dumping a boatload of bugs into their cube).
“Dear God, why would someone do that?” Sean asks Matt.
“Money,” LeBlanc says. “To be on TV. I don’t know. It’s crazy.”
“Well, you’re willing to be a game show host for money and to be on TV.”
“It’s a little bit different.”
“Well, for one thing, I’m getting a shit-load of money.”
“I’m sure, for them, whatever they’re getting is a shit-load of money.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not stuck in a box.”
“Not a literal box, but you’re trapped doing this thing you don’t want to do, in front of everybody, with no way out.”
The scene ends with LeBlanc shoving Simon off his chair, but that only reinforces what we already know. Matt LeBlanc, obviously frustrated by the truth being thrown in his face, knows he’s taken an artless, no-talent-required job that’s gonna pay him a lot of money and get his face in front of a lot of people.
Of course, this is Matt LeBlanc’s character on “Episodes” — a version of Matt LeBlanc, but not the real Matt LeBlanc. Sean Lincoln is played by Stephen Mangan, and the rest of the cast consists of actors playing characters disassociated with themselves. Matt LeBlanc, the real-life actor, has never hosted a game show. Sure, Joey auditioned to be one on an episode of “Friends,” but the real guy has never quizzically stared at a woman inside a glass cube as the studio audience chants, “Release the bugs!”
So no one is saying the two are the same person. We wouldn’t do that. Really, we wouldn’t. After all, “Episodes” Matt LeBlanc has done some terrible things we’d like to believe the real Matt LeBlanc would never do.
Well, if you want to hold onto that belief, don’t watch “Man With a Plan.” Following in the footsteps of the man who played his former fictional roommate, LeBlanc has taken a high-paying gig with with little to no artistic value on a network that somehow still pulls monster ratings for its shoddy sitcoms (like Matthew Perry’s “The Odd Couple,” in case that wasn’t clear). He’s getting paid a shit-load of money to be on a show seen by millions of people, and it sure doesn’t seem like he wants to do it.
Yes, Matt LeBlanc is trapped inside “The Box”
The actor and the character who share the same name have become one, and, yes, LeBlanc’s role on “Man With a Plan” is just as bad as being a game show host. Maybe worse. Not only is the series uncomfortably dated and anti-equality, but it’s also criminally unfunny. The canned laughter is almost entirely unearned and usually revolves around predictable wordplay instead of, you know, jokes.
Worst of all, the sitcom sets up Lowell (Matt Cook), another father at school, as the overly feminine foil to LeBlanc’s macho papa. Lowell has been a stay-at-home dad for too long, and his sense of self has disappeared due to the duties required in raising his children. He clings to LeBlanc’s Adam because his casual mentioning of “beer” sparks memories of when Lowell used to be more masculine, or masculine at all. Apparently if fathers spend too much time with their kids, they will turn into mothers. The horror, the horror!
If men fearing femininity like most people fear death isn’t enough to scare you off, let me simply say this: As a devout “Friends” fan, it’s sad to see LeBlanc in this role. Say what you will about the classic NBC sitcom, but it was incredibly funny, hugely influential and asked a lot of its cast (for at least seven of the 10 seasons). Seeing LeBlanc in “Man With a Plan” hurts more than when he tried to take “Joey” out on his own. At least that spinoff focused on a likable guy who knew he was a dumb-dumb.
Moreover, “Episodes” marked the next step up for LeBlanc. After “Joey” quickly left the airwaves, the actor took some time off before popping back up in the prestigious Showtime comedy that has earned the actor more Emmy nominations than “Friends” (four to three) and his first Golden Globe ever. He may not have become the movie star he’d hoped when “Lost in Space” and “Ed” bombed at the box office in the ’90s, but LeBlanc’s talents were being well-utilized.
Here, they’re wasted, and Matt LeBlanc is stuck in a box, waiting for someone to release the bugs.