With Episodes about to come to an end — happily, a perfect and satisfying ending — we thought it was the perfect time to chat with series creators David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik about the inspiration behind the industry-spoofing Showtime comedy: themselves.
Episodes isn’t the first time the real-life couple and professional partners have worked together; both were writers on the HBO comedy Dream On (which Crane co-created), for instance, and created the too short-lived CBS comedy The Class together. But the couple at the heart of Episodes, husband-and-wife writing team Sean (Stephen Mangan) and Beverly (Tamsin Greig), are very much David and Jeffrey, and just a few minutes chatting with the Friends and Mad About You alums illustrates why Sean and Beverly are such a smart, fun, endearing duo.
Crane and Klarik, Emmy and Golden Globe nominated for Episodes, talked to Yahoo TV about their history of collaboration, how they first met, the specific ways Sean and Beverly mirror their relationship, and why they chose Friends star Matt LeBlanc to play a hilariously tweaked version of himself in Episodes.
They also drop some hints about a possible Episodes movie, as well as a surprising Episodes spinoff series.
You guys have a unique personal and professional relationship, and it works for you. I think a lot of people couldn’t make that work as well as you have.
Jeffrey Klarik: Yeah, look at Lucy and Desi and Cher and Sonny.
David Crane: I don’t think of us as Sonny and Cher.
Which came first, working together or becoming a couple?
Crane: First came love, then came work.
Klarik: Yeah, we met about 30 years ago in New York, set up by mutual friends, and we’ve been together ever since.
Was it an immediate connection?
Crane: We’re looking at each other across our desks.
Klarik: It was immediate for me.
Crane: Yeah, absolutely.
Klarik: He had no idea we got fixed up, but I was behind the fix up. Our friends invited us for dinner, and he showed up and saw the table set for four, and he kind gulped and realized, “Oh, so that’s what this is.” And it was great. I had just asked my friends, “Don’t you know anybody? Help me, I’m desperate, help me.”
Crane: And if that doesn’t sound romantic…
Klarik: And they said, “Oh, you know who he might like, David Crane’s a writer, too.” And I said, “Yes, fine, great, OK.”
And then what was your first collaboration? Dream On?
Klarik: It was unofficial for many years because we were both working for different people, but we were always helping each other in whatever we wrote. And then I guess, yeah, the first time we were actually on the same show together was Dream On. But I always had overall deals with different studios, so we had to kind of work together surreptitiously. I hope you’re not listening, Guild. But that’s what we did. And yeah, I was there for the first Friends meeting.
Crane: And it really wasn’t until Jeffrey’s deals were done and Friends was over, that we were both looking at each other going, “Oh wait, we can make this official now.” And we did a show for CBS called The Class. We’re still recovering from it.
I think so many of us remember that show fondly, though, and wish it had gone on. That cast…
Crane: How ‘bout that cast? That cast could have turned into Friends if they had given it a chance. It was that kind of chemistry and that kind of collection of fabulous actors. So that’s their loss.
Klarik: But I don’t think we would have gotten to do Episodes if that had gone forward. So, you know, whatever that expression is… God opens a window? Something like that? And I jump.
Crane: And Jeffrey jumps. That’s the expression.
Did you know from the beginning that you wanted to someday do a project together?
Klarik: Officially? Well, we did. We certainly had been in writers’ rooms together. We knew we could do that. So yeah, I think there was never a question. And I think the big thing that separates Episodes out from all the work we’ve done is that Episodes is just us. There’s no writers’ room, there are no other writers. Unlike virtually any other show, this is just the two of us. I meant to say our room, our room being our kitchen or the car.
Crane: It’s true. And it’s non-stop, you know… you talk about living and working together, that’s all we do. From the minute we wake up in the morning until we go to sleep at night, we discuss it, we re-write it, we write it again. We talk about it some more, and then we re-write it yet again. I mean, it’s really all we do. And in the last seven years of Episodes, it’s really been full time.
What makes you good collaborators?
Crane: I think we have similar sensibilities. We make each other laugh, which is, I think, everything because when you’re writing, that’s your goal.
Klarik: Also, I think David is driven, and I like to be driven. I like to sit in the back seat. So it’s a combination of things because he keeps us on track, and he’s always making me feel guilty if we don’t work. I can’t imagine being a self-starter. If I had to do it on my own… I just can’t imagine.
The flip side of that is, you mentioned, it becomes your whole life, with Episodes especially. How do you make sure it literally isn’t every minute of your life, or can you?
Klarik: Funny you should say that. It got to the point about, probably two years ago, we were in the car going into L.A. and I just couldn’t stand it anymore, and I said to David, “Do you think it’s possible that we can have a conversation, not about this show, for just two minutes? That’s all I’m asking, not to talk about the show for two minutes.” And he said, “Fine. OK. Sure.”
Crane: He turned on the radio and didn’t talk and about two minutes go by and Jeffrey sort of bursts out and he goes, “OK, what if Beverly …” and we were back into it. So that takes care of that. The good news is, by the way, that since we’ve finished the show, we’ve been able to be very happy together. It’s not like we literally ran out of things to say. It’s just that when we’re in the throes of it, it’s all we could think about.
Klarik: And there was a gun to our heads. I mean, we had a schedule, and we had a lot of people waiting and depending on us. So we just had to do it.
Crane: You just said write, and I got nervous.
Klarik: Like you had to go do it?
Crane: Yes. I mean, it’s great that it’s just… it’s hard that it’s just us, but it’s also great because it’s not as…
Crane: Yeah, and it’s not as homogenized in voice because you don’t have to get a whole room to agree with you, you just have to get one. That’s the part of it that I like the most. Because I found in a room, you have to be nice to people. You know what I mean? You have to be polite and you have to shake your head yes, like you think that’s a good idea even when you think, “Oh, no, that’s ridiculous.” So that eats up a lot of your day, the niceness. With us, we can cut right to the chase, there’s no niceness.
Klarik: I’m nice.
Crane: Yeah, that’s the thing. We talk about it for a while, you may come to realize that of the characters, we’ve really written ourselves because the only couple that we know that writes together is our characters, Sean and Beverly, and they are very much… I’m very much Sean, in that I want everything to be positive…
Klarik: And he likes people.
Crane: I do like people. I have a much… we talk about writers’ rooms. I’ve been in great writers’ rooms. Jeffrey is more Beverly, more cynical, doesn’t want to have to be nice.
Klarik: It’s exhausting.
Crane: When we pitched the show originally, we described the characters the way we described ourselves, which is, I think the glass is half full.
Klarik: And I think the glass is an idiot.
You clearly have a shorthand that comes from knowing each other so well personally, and as professional collaborators.
Crane: Absolutely, and even though we’re both pretty strong-willed, we don’t ever fight about the work. The most it gets to us is, we’ll reach a point where we’re not agreeing on something, and Jeffrey will go, “Think about it,” and walk away, because he knows when I think about it…
Klarik: He’ll realize I’m right.
Crane: And he usually is, I realize, and then I’ll come around. And that’s really the most contentious it gets.
The next layer of this is that you’re not just a couple who writes together, you’re also writing an autobiographical story. Were there any hesitations about that?
Crane: I don’t think so.
Klarik: I think if there were, they were on my part, because I knew we were going to be sort of poking fun at our industry. And I was afraid of what people might think, and I was afraid of burning bridges.
Crane: And my feeling was, I’m never going to have to go over that bridge again, thank you. Thank you, God. So, fine, burn it down. I’m on land right now, looking back.
Did you set any rules for yourselves? Were there things that you wouldn’t tackle, or things you wouldn’t have Sean and Beverly tackle?
Klarik: I don’t think so, no. The only rule was, we had to make each other laugh. And we had to believe that it was truthful, so that’s… you know, a lot of people say, “Oh, it’s about the industry, it’s about behind-the-scenes television.” And sure, it is, but for us, it was really about this couple. Just like Mad About You was about Paul and Jamie, and Friends was about Ross and Rachel or Chandler and Monica. We’re much more interested in the dynamics of the relationship, and how they kind of play out.
The final season of Episodes is wonderful, and, no spoilers, but the ending is perfect and sweet and funny, and just very satisfying. Did you do everything you wanted to do with Sean and Beverly, and with their relationship with Matt?
Crane: We’re looking at each other… yes, it’s a yes. I think certainly in the journey we took them on, and I mean, we chose to end the show, that was really our choice, and we thought, “You know what, we can put a bow on it, and we’ve told the story we wanted to tell.” That said, there are moments in life where things will happen, especially like industry things, and life things, and we go, “That would have been great in the show.”
Klarik: But it’s a little late.
But there’s no reason there can’t be an Episodes movie, a reunion, right?
Crane: Well, it’s funny, because we actually were approached by a film company about turning it into a film. And so we’re thinking about it. But it’s tough, because it feels… we’re really happy with our ending, so to reopen the box is…
Klarik: And by box, he doesn’t mean The Box from Episodes.
Crane: Not the game show The Box, no, although, that’s another thing. I don’t know if you know about this yet, but The Box, the Episodes game show that Matt hosts? Well, we just came back from London, where there’s a company that wants to make The Box as a real TV show.
Because that’s such a good idea.
Crane: Yes, let’s put people in! I say to Jeffrey every time we talk about it, “You know, someone’s going to die.” You just know, we’ll be the game show where someone actually dies.
But The Box could really happen?
Klarik: We’ve had meetings. It doesn’t get more meta than that.
It really doesn’t, but it also sounds specifically like a British game show. I mean, they have Celebrity Big Brother, putting those people in a house together.
Crane: Yeah, exactly. We’d start there, and then they would roll it out all over the place. But, who knows.
Klarik: It’s just so nuts, I still kind of can’t even imagine.
So Episodes could have multiple spinoffs, game show and movie. Would that be a TV movie or would it be a theatrical release?
Klarik: It would be a movie movie. But we would rethink the whole premise. It wouldn’t necessarily be the same cast. It would be the idea.
Speaking of cast, and going back to the beginning, why did you choose Matt originally as the centerpiece of Episodes, as the real actor to fictionalize?
Klarik: It just seemed like the funniest person to… when you think the original actor was Richard Griffiths…
Crane: Yeah, just one of those great elder statesman of the British stage and screen, and then what’s the worst piece of recasting? Matt. And that’s how it started, but then as we started exploring what the show could be, [Matt] became a much more dimensional character. And when we first pitched it to Matt, we made it clear, very quickly, this is a character.
Klarik: Yeah, this is not you. And he said, “Listen, I’m up for it. I don’t mind being the butt of the joke, if it’s a good joke.” And I thought, “God, I love this guy.” Because that’s such a smart way to look at it. And at no point has he ever balked at anything we’ve ever written. In the beginning, we were kind of nervous, and we would send him the script, and he would just go, “Great, let’s do it.”
The show really has given people the chance to see how talented he is. We love him as Joey, and he was brilliant as a comedic actor in Friends, but we’ve gotten to see another level of acting skill with his role as “Matt.”
Klarik: I always thought, he’s so good at what he does that people think this man is Joey. And he is so not Joey; he’s doing such great acting that no one gives him credit for. And I thought, I’d love to f**king reward him for that. I didn’t mean to say f**king, but yeah. It was just like, “Let’s write him something that’s really nuanced and rich and euphoric, and he hasn’t let us down. Pretty amazing. Whatever you throw his way, he comes at it.
What are you guys working on next? Or are all these projects, a possible Episodes movie and possible real world version of The Box, keeping you busy right now?
Klarik: Oh no, we have ideas.
Crane: We haven’t pitched the replacement yet, but we have stuff that we want to do.
Klarik: We’re actually talking about going away for the first time in seven years. Just for a little vacation, just to get away, because we haven’t been able to do that. All we’ve been doing is the show for seven years, so we’re talking about maybe going away in September. We got an award from the Nantucket Film Festival about a month ago, and went to pick it up and fell in love with Nantucket. I’d never been there, David had never been there. And we just thought, “Oh God, can you imagine just really spending some time here? Just relaxing?”
Crane: Although, Jeffery says relaxing… you know if we go to Nantucket, we’ll spend the whole time going, “Alright, how about this idea? What if this happens?”
Episodes Season 5 premieres Aug. 20 at 10 p.m. on Showtime.
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