By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Who knew that making a television comedy would be so stressful?
Strained marriages and friendships are put to the test as Showtime's satirical comedy "Episodes" delivers more of the narcissistic actors, crazy network heads and chaotic situations that dominate Hollywood's television industry.
"Episodes," developed by "Friends" creator David Crane and partner Jeffrey Klarik, follows the journey of married British couple Sean and Beverly Lincoln, who come to Hollywood to remake their successful British TV show for a U.S. audience.
But season one showed the couple battling the dysfunctional personalities running Hollywood's television industry, who change the show to a sitcom called "Pucks" starring "Friends" actor Matt LeBlanc. LeBlanc plays an acidic version of himself in the show and becomes good friend with Sean. In season two, the couple become estranged after Beverly has an affair with Matt.
"Episodes" returns this Sunday, and picks up the story from the morning after the explosive night at an awards show which concluded the last season, where Sean and Beverly finally reconciled.
"It's a pendulum swing of disaster and longing between (Sean and Beverly) of wanting to find one another but trying to keep themselves protected from the terror of their universe that they're having to exist in," British actress Tamsin Greig, who plays Beverly, told Reuters.
British actor Stephen Mangan, who plays Sean, said while his character began the first season as "the most wide-eyed, innocent of the lot," in season three, Sean has to come to terms with the fact that Matt will never change his selfish ways.
And to add to the already chaotic mix of self-involved actors and network executives, the new season sees a new head honcho to replace Merc, the seemingly charming Castor, who actually is a little unhinged.
"When you first meet him, you're blown away by everything. He's attractive, he seems passionate and he's smart, and as you get to know him, you realize he's crazy," said Klarik, adding that Castor, played by Chris Diamantopoulos, was inspired by real experiences with executives.
Each character in the show goes through making sometimes mean, nasty and self-centered decisions that will knowingly hurt another party, something that Crane and Klarik, as the show's writers, were eager to portray.
"There is a certain honesty in that we're not so invested in protecting the characters so that they only do nice things. The characters' actions have consequences," Crane said.
'WRITING FOR REVENGE'
Crane and Klarik said part of the appeal of "Episodes" was getting to parody the neurotic personalities of real-life people they've encountered while working in television.
"I think Jeffrey writes for revenge much more than I do," Crane said, with a laugh.
"There's a lot of fun to be had with the insanity of what we do, but the most important thing for us is about the characters, and the Hollywood part gives us this wonderful, rich world in which to set the show."
For LeBlanc, who has become a household name playing the loveable but dim-witted Joey Tribbiani on NBC sitcom "Friends" and its short-lived spin-off "Joey," the one way to break out of the "Friends" spotlight was to acknowledge it directly.
"The irony here is by embracing the fact that Matt was Joey on 'Friends,' Matt's been able to play a character who couldn't be more different, and he's been able to show a whole range that he wasn't able to before," Crane said.
LeBlanc, who admitted that he harbored some initial hesitations about the idea of playing a skewed version of himself, said he came on board because he trusted Crane and Klarik and wouldn't have done the show with anyone else.
But while "Episodes" has gone far beyond the initial six-part series that Crane and Klarik had envisioned producing just for the BBC, the duo are still frequently asked the million-dollar question - will "Friends" will ever return?
"It's not coming back," Klarik said. "We finished it right. We put a bow on it. I think everybody who wants to see more, if we actually did it, suddenly there'd be so much 'it's nothing like it used to be.' Better leaving people wanting more than giving them more than they want."
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Krista Hughes)