Most of the friends after Friends, had a hard time repeating their former success and breaking out of the molds that they had created for 10 seasons.
Chandler aka. Matthew Perry, played Chandler in most of his work immediately following the end of the series (Fools Rush In, The Whole Nine Yards), and Jennifer Aniston aka. Rachel, played someone rather similar to Rachel (The Object of my Affection, Bruce Almighty). David Schwimmer fared no better, he played Melman the Giraffe in Madagascar, who seems like the alternate ego of – you guessed it – Ross. Matt Le Blanc played it safe… and starred in the spin off show Joey, but without the supporting cast of his Friends it failed after two seasons.
Then came Episodes created by David Crane (Friends) and Jeffrey Klarik (Mad About You). A series where Matt LeBlanc plays a larger than life version of himself, an actor who after ‘Friends‘ needs a big TV hit, with a plot taking the piss out of how American’s remake British sitcoms at the expense of their integrity, humour and genius.
The show was a hit and garnered Matt LeBlanc the much needed Best actor Golden Globe. But unlike Friends whose plot worked fundamentally on the familiar boy meets girl premise (and by the end of the series, every boy had indeed ‘met’ every girl) Episodes was a darker satire which worked because it exposed the clashing truth of two very different cultures and communication styles. In it I recognised some painful truths of my own, all the funnier because they weren’t happening to me (anymore).
A Passive Communication Style
Eve Rickert, co-author of the most excellent open relationship advice manual More Than Two dropped me a line a couple of weeks ago to let me know that she had given an honourable mention to Postmodern Woman and my book on a recent podcast with Sex Nerd. What might they have mentioned? I was curious. And at around the 27 minute mark I found out. An article I had written on the etiquette surrounding British passive communication in open – or indeed any – relationships.
“Is [passive communication] a really big thing in Britain?” asked Sex Nerd. “Yeah, Oh yeah.” Eve replied.
In Episodes, Tamsin Greig plays Beverley, one half of a British husband and wife team who’ve created a smash sitcom. She’s appalled by the superficiality of L.A., the exposed ‘rude’ emotion of her colleagues and uncomfortable with the physicality of the embraces from virtual strangers. Does she say anything? No.
Passive communication hiding behind humour is one of the things that makes Sean and Beverley’s English sitcom funny and award winning. Needless to say, it doesn’t work in the States. And it’s also one of the things that leads to the downfall of their relationship.
“This is a bad, bad idea” says Sean, confronted by an American actress who wants to talk out a problem with Beverley. “First of all you’ll be waking her up and then she’ll definitely hate you. A better plan might be we just let this go.”
“No you gotta talk about stuff!” says the American actress.
“You see,” says Sean “here we have a significant cultural divide. Our people don’t believe in talking about stuff. We prefer suppressing our stuff and letting it fester. It’s kind of our thing.”
Commentary from pop culture does not have to be taken seriously. It’s not like therapy or Schindler’s list. It can be laughed at and laughed off. But that doesn’t make it less real. Because we do let it fester. Preferring much of the time to let truths be swept under the carpet because they cause discomfort and in Britain can even lower our social status.
So Beverley ends up sleeping with Matt Leblanc mostly because she and Sean were unable to communicate about their suspicions and frustrations. And the pain that this creates means – eventually – the utter vulnerability and tragedy they tried so hard to avoid by not communicating, bursts out like the evil from Pandora’s box.
Beverley says “Sweetheart listen to me. I realise you feel that way now.”
To which Sean replies “You have no idea how I feel. Because if you did that would imply you had a grain of empathy in your body. And if you did, you wouldn’t have casually destroyed the one thing that means anything to me.”
When Sean and Beverley finally let it out are both left bereft. Is it possible that Beverley has no idea how Sean feels because he never told her?
With a more active communication style, might they have been able to prevent the disastrous repercussions of their individual frustrations?
Is it better to be like the stereotypical self-obsessed Americans of Episodes and avoid the pits of pain that we British dig into our personalities by avoiding the discomfort that honesty entails?
Is the depth and complexity that repressed pain brings better than the so-called “shallowness and crudeness” of honestly communicated but uncomfortable emotion? Can you have both?
Who’s to say that shallow isn’t another word for the ability to live in the present moment… the ability to feel and immediately expunge that emotion if left to fester, wounds our psyche permanently?
Episodes represents the ultimate irony for us Brits, where the lesson of our disastrous communication style is so cleverly showcased by supposedly ‘intelligent’ English juxtaposed with seemingly ‘stupid’ Americans.
‘I know what you say about honesty,’ said my friend who was dabbling with his rather disingenuous OK Cupid profile. ‘But with too much honesty, any prospective date will be frightened away. Scared of your brave new world. There may not be any relationship at all if I attempt to be honest straight away.’
Honesty is a brave new world for many. But I can – yes in all honesty – say that I welcome those uncomfortable truths. The more uncomfortable the better. Not for the pain they bring. Of course not. But for what comes with them. Utter vulnerability and consequent trust. Trust that the relationships I build are based on the reality of the other person and our needs instead of a charade of lies and denial. When you tell the truth it doesn’t hurt as much as you may think.
And what it brings is compassion for the other person, a deeper understanding of how you each operate, the triggers of what pains you and why it pains you. It means that your hidden frustrations don’t propel you to do something stupid, that you stop fighting behind unknown agendas that end up wrecking your relationship and leaving you bereft.