Playing Hollywood for humor is wearing thin as "Episodes" returns for a second season Sunday.
Celebrities poking fun at themselves is nothing new. Dean Martin loved to play up his boozehound persona. Jack Benny piled on to his reputation as a skinflint by taking an awfully long pause when forced to choose between his money and his life.
In the first season of the Showtime comedy "Episodes," Matt LeBlanc had a much harder task skewering his public image. That's because he didn't have one.
The "Friends" star may have gotten famous by playing a lovable lunkhead, but for all we know he could have spent his off-screen hours performing brain surgery.
Give LeBlanc credit, then, for creating a "private" character: a self-involved, uncensored, bed-hopping TV star who still conjures up enough sweetness to get away with murder, or at least sleeping with his buddy's wife.
Watching LeBlanc invent a darker version of Joey Tribbiani was a joy and the key reason why he won a Golden Globe for the role last winter.
But the joke can only last so long.
The second season of "Episodes," which opens Sunday, picks up four months after the fictionalized LeBlanc has had a one-night stand with Beverly Lincoln, co-creator of his new sitcom, "Pucks," much to the chagrin of her writing partner/husband, Sean.
LeBlanc's idea of an apology? To buy each of them a new car. His idea of learning a lesson? Starting an affair with a network executive's blind wife, a twist that allows him to rattle off a litany of politically incorrect zingers.
"Sex with a blind girl is great," he says. "You don't have to suck in the gut."
LeBlanc continues to walk the thin line between crudeness and charm, but that tightrope act is getting old. So is the show's sendup of showbiz. What might have seemed daring a few years ago now borders on being stale.
HBO alone has given us a trilogy of showbiz satires in recent years and we can't help but get nostalgic when "Episodes" puts out strikingly similar scenes:
• The driven network boss who walks away from his father's funeral to cut a deal with Matthew Broderick. (See: "Entourage's" Ari Gold interrupting an anniversary dinner to take a phone call.)
• The airhead executive who suggests cutting a reference to Rudyard Kipling because no one will know who he is. (See: Network suits dumbing down a sitcom in Ricky Gervais' "Extras.")
• An uncomfortable conversation about the potential for a "Friends" reunion. (See: Larry David succumbing to pressure to bring the "Seinfeld" cast back together in "Curb Your Enthusiasm.")
That's not to say the show's creators, "Friends" boss David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik, aren't clever. There's a great scene in which the network CEO (John Pankow) laments his ratings from atop his throne, otherwise known as his office toilet.
"Our ratings are like 9/11," he moans. "This is my Ground Zero."
This kind of material would have soared a decade ago, before cable comedies turned the self-mockery of showbiz into a darker art form.
Because the likes of Ricky Gervais and Larry David have already mastered the craft, "Episodes" feels like a rerun.
firstname.lastname@example.org • 612-673-7431 • Twitter: @nealjustin