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LeBlanc, ’very sexy’ co-star return in ’Episodes’

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Matt LeBlanc wants to do something the fictional, self-absorbed Matt LeBlanc on Showtime’s “Episodes” would jeer — make amends to British co-star Tamsin Greig.

In a gaffe that could play nicely on the Hollywood satire, LeBlanc told the U.K. media that his on-screen liplock with Greig last season was “surprisingly sexy.”

His revised assessment: “Very, very sexy. Not surprising at all,” he said.

The first take was blurted out unthinkingly, “and boy, was that a mistake. She won’t let it go,” he said of Greig.

While the actress now may hold the real-life upper hand on LeBlanc, her character, Beverly, is the loser in her encounters with the “Episodes” Matt.

In season one, Beverly and her husband (Stephen Mangan), the witty, talented creators of a hit British sitcom, were lured by ego and money to recreate their series for a U.S. network.

After surrendering on every aspect of casting and story, they found “Lyman’s Boys” transformed to “Pucks!” The main character, a droll English headmaster, became a smart-alec, skirt-chasing hockey coach, and the faux Matt replaced the original star, a venerated English actor.

Sean, dazzled by the sunshine and Matt — aka Joey on “Friends” — quickly succumbed to the town’s siren song. Beverly managed to resist, right up until she fell into bed with Matt.

In season two, debuting 10:30 p.m. EDT Sunday, Beverly and Sean have split but are still working together on “Pucks!” which is facing new heights of network meddling. Beverly and Matt, their in-a-blink fling over, are adversaries and each seeking Sean’s forgiveness.

The Matt-as-Matt gimmick adds snap to the show’s unrelenting skewering of Hollywood, which in “Episodes” includes a childlike, incompetent network executive (John Pankow), general wanton adultery and a handsome star with enough charms, sexual and otherwise, to offset his boorish side.

The cast is uniformly excellent, from Tamsin and Mangan to the network suits that make their lives hell, including Pankow, Kathleen Rose Perkins, Joseph May and the wondrously rubber-faced Daisy Haggard.

LeBlanc, who won a Golden Globe in January for playing his doppelganger, was an eye-opening delight in season one. His character veered from swaggering star to despairing father (after losing custody of his young sons) to disloyal pal — the last prompting a deserves-to-be-classic comic fight scene with Sean.

“Matt makes a meal of every scene,” said David Crane, the “Friends” co-creator who devised and wrote “Episodes” with partner Jeffrey Klarik. “One of our goals in doing the show was to write a role that was very different from Joey, had a big range and let him do all kinds of stuff.”

LeBlanc didn’t balk at making his character unappealing and was willing to go to “some very dark places” in season two, Crane said. “There are no boundaries” created by the actor, Klarik added.

Whether LeBlanc and his TV version share any similarities is a question he gets asked repeatedly and, he says, makes sure to dodge.

“I always refrain from answering. I think the character Matt LeBlanc in ‘Episodes’ is basically the public’s perception of a celebrity, namely me,” he says. “It’s not really based on me. Yeah, we were both on ‘Friends,’ but it’s not really me.”

“Friends,” of course, was the long-running NBC hit that made stars of its cast, including LeBlanc as the sweetly buffoonish Joey Trebbiani, and very financially secure ones. After the short-lived spinoff “Joey,” LeBlanc was willing to come back to sitcom work because he trusted the men behind “Episodes.”

The Showtime series is wickedly funny but also has “an emotional through-line,” LeBlanc said. “You really develop compassion for the characters. The stakes are all high enough to where it matters and nothing feels forced.”

An “Episodes” season also is tidily brief, nine half-hours this season, compared to the roughly 22 episodes churned out yearly for a typical U.S. sitcom.

The compact shooting schedule means “I can be there for my little girl,” LeBlanc said of his 8-year-old daughter (with former wife Missy McKnight). LeBlanc’s easygoing tone turns warm when he talks about her.

“Things I used to think were really important are not that important anymore,” he said. “For me, it’s been a great experience. She’s the light of my life.”

He’s also making room for a film, “Lovesick,” what LeBlanc calls a “funny little movie.”

“My track record in films hasn’t been the best, but you try,” LeBlanc said candidly.

As “Episodes” proves, the big screen’s loss is television’s gain.

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EDITOR’S NOTE — Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. She can be reached at lelber@ap.org.

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Online:

Showtime: http://www.sho.com

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