In the final season of Episodes, viewers will see the last chapter in the tale of Sean (Stephen Mangan) and Beverly Lincoln (Tamsin Greig) — a British couple who moved to the United States in order to create a television show starring Matt LeBlanc. Throughout its five-season run, the Showtime series has received acclaim for its insider’s observations (and evisceration) of the entertainment industry. It also garnered 10 Emmy nominations throughout its run — four for LeBlanc in his meta portrayal of a narcissistic actor.
What viewers may not know is that Episodes was created by and is inspired by the lives of an American gay couple: David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik.
“The two principals, Sean and Beverly? We are absolutely writing ourselves,” Crane confirmed in a recent interview with The Advocate.
“They work together, they live together, and basically, their points of view toward the world and show business reflects ours. Jeffrey is very much Beverly — more cynical, more willing to step up to a fight. I’m more Sean — needing everyone to get along and hating conflict,” Crane said.
In fact, Klarik and Crane have been partners in life and business for over 30 years. (The pair were set up at a dinner arranged by mutual friends, and they’ve been together ever since. “My trap was set,” joked Klarik, who had set the wheels in motion.)
Like Sean and Beverly, the writers have a relationship that extends to their work, which has included two of the biggest hits in modern network television. Crane cocreated NBC’s Friends alongside Marta Kauffman. Klarik was a coproducer and executive story editor on NBC’s Mad About You. And as in every venture in their careers, they helped each other in writing these productions.
“I was the unofficial writer on Friends,” said Klarik, about how the pair would ghostwrite for one another’s shows. “I had overall deals with different studios so there was a conflict of interest. So I would just do what I had to do in the shadows.”
Thus, unbeknownst to America, a gay couple worked together to craft jokes and storylines for its favorite shows. The impact of this was subtle. Unlike their contemporary Will & Grace, neither Friends nor Mad About You had LGBT primary characters. And the couple is hesitant to say the shows had a “gay sensibility” or agenda. However, the gay writers did bring a perspective that is unique from the mainstream.
“I don’t know if it’s a gay sensibility or if it’s a female sensibility,” Klarik clarified about this understanding. “On Mad About You, I knew how Helen [Hunt] with [her character] Jamie would feel. I don’t know why. But I just understand how women think and feel. And I emphathize with them. And so it’s very easy for me to get into that, to kind of channel female characters.”
“I don’t think there was ever a conscious to approach anything with a gay sensibility,” Crane said. “I think I’ve always written things that make me laugh or make Jeffrey laugh. I have my own personal sensibility, which also happens to be gay, and I guess it informs the writing that we do.”
Their identity also gave them an understanding of the importance of the inclusion of gay characters. “We felt as though if you have a big ensemble cast, they should be in the mix,” Crane said. This has led to some major moments in television history. In 1996, a decade before nationwide marriage equality, Friends featured one of the first same-sex marriages in mainstream media, when Ross’s ex-wife wed her partner. It's a moment that the couple recalls as significant not just to them, but for the country.
“It was very important during Friends to have that lesbian relationship and that they would ultimately get married when marriage was not a common occurrence,” said Klarik.
The couple also worked on a CBS show, Family Album, which was likewise ahead of its time. On it, Crane and Klarik made sure to write in a character, Jeffrey, who was an “11- or 12-year-old boy who didn’t like sports and he knew all about the theater. He was very sensitive. He was friends with the girl next door,” Klarik said.
In the early ’90s, this character took some selling for network approval. “What’s with this kid Jeffrey? He’s weird,” Klarik recalled executives telling him. “And I said, ‘No, he’s not — he’s me!’” Although the series was short-lived, the character named Jeffrey, portrayed by actor Christopher Miranda, did indeed make it onto the air.
In an official capacity, Klarik and Crane would go to work on a number of other productions together, including HBO’s Dream On (1990-1996) and CBS’s The Class (2006-2007). But Episodes presented a unique and valuable opportunity for the writers in terms of creative control. They are the only writers of the Showtime series, and Klarik served as the sole director this past season. He called it “our own little boutique store.” It also reunited them with their Friends alumnus LeBlanc.
Moreover, the pair have continued to bring LGBT storylines to television on Episodes with Carol Rance (Kathleen Rose Perkins), whose romance with Helen (Andrea Savage) yielded both happiness and heartbreak.
“One of our favorite relationships in the show is Carol … who we’ve seen go through relationships with men that were just so difficult and painful and damaged and she finally found actual love with a woman. And it also ended up being damaged and painful. But still! It’s probably the best relationship she ever had, and that’s fun to write,” Klarik said.
Now Episodes has reached its final season — a reality that Klarik called “bittersweet.”
“We’re happy with what we did, I think this is probably one of the best seasons,” he said. “Showtime wanted us to continue, but our feeling was we pretty much set out the story we set out to tell. That and for seven years we’ve pretty much uprooted our lives and have been living half the year in England. And it became kind of difficult emotionally and strategically, so we’re anxious to get back home to our regular routine again.”
Home for them is the posh coastal town of Montecito, Calif., which also boasts none other than Oprah Winfrey as a resident. “Wherever Oprah is, that’s where we are. Thank God she’s out of Chicago, that’s all I’ll say,” Klarik said. There, they will be working on an idea for a new production they haven’t pitched yet, which involves portraying gay life in an era that was not accepting. For Klarik, the project is personal.
“I remember the first time I went to Fire Island Pines … and I could hold my boyfriend’s hand,” recalled Klarik, who had a career in the “Mad Men years” of advertising prior to Tinseltown. “I had never done that in public before, and it was the most liberating, amazing experience of my life. It was … ‘Oh, this must be what it’s like to be straight. This weight, this heaviness that’s on my head all the time, that I have to hide myself and I have to hide who I am.’ I could be myself for those few days there. It was just to liberating and magical and romantic and I think there are whole generations that have no idea what a gift that is on a daily basis.”
But in Hollywood, at least, the couple has been the recipient of this gift of acceptance. Throughout their careers, Klarik and Crane have been in unique in Hollywood as not only successful out writers, but also as out collaborators who are real-life partners. It’s a distinction that holds different meanings for each.
“I don’t think we think of ourselves as a gay couple writing together as much as a couple writing together,” Crane said.
“Sometimes I do,” said Klarik, on considering their significance as a gay couple in showbiz. “I think to myself how lucky we are, because we’re in an industry that’s sort of — I can’t say ‘welcomes’ — but embraces or accepts with no questions asked.”
“That’s a nice feeling, as someone who grew up in a time when you couldn’t talk about it and you had to hide your life. And to be able to be so open and free is pretty great. It’s nice to feel like you’re part of the world. Because for so many years, I didn’t,” he added.
In fact, the couple said they never felt discriminated against in the entertainment industry because of their sexual orientation, in part due to the success they achieved. “It’s really a mercenary business, and it’s really about succeeding and I think everything else, including homophobia, takes a backseat to that,” Crane said. “It’s been a lot of years, [and] I’ve never felt any kind of hostility or resistance or anything.”
However, there was at least one misconception.
“People thought Marta Kauffman and I were a couple, so she was my inadvertent beard for a while,” Crane said.
There’s no mistaking them for a couple now, however. Crane and Klarik eloped on New Year’s Eve — they didn’t even tell friends — in response to the election of Donald Trump as president. “When we found out that he had been elected, the first thing we said to one another is, ‘Now’s the time to get married,’” said Klarik, who along with Crane feared that the right to marry might disappear under the Republican president.
“We found it more emotional than we were expecting it to,” Crane said of the ceremony, which took place in their local City Hall. “We did it just because we felt we should. And then it was kind of wonderful.”
“It was our own little political statement to each other,” Klarik said.
And what’s next for one of Hollywood’s most prominent gay power couples, other than work? The question momentarily gives the pair pause.
“Our lives are so intertwined with work. It’s like, what do you mean? Other than the show?!” Crane said with a laugh. “Other than that, we just have a really lovely life and a great relationship. And we feel very lucky.”
The final season of Episodes airs Sundays on Showtime. Watch the trailer below.