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Former "Friends" star Matt LeBlanc is returning to television comedy. As Matt LeBlanc. Sort of, but not really.

He's playing Matt LeBlanc in the new Showtime series "Episodes," which premieres Sunday, Jan. 9, at 10:30 p.m.

"It's not really me," he said. "It's just a character that happens to have the same name as me. There are some similarities, but for the most part, it's a fictitious character."

"Episodes" began as a project for the BBC, and then Showtime stepped in. It follows the strange adventure of British TV writers Sean (Stephen Mangan) and Beverly Lincoln (Tamsin Greig).

They're the happily married producers of the award-winning Britcom "Lyman's Boys," about an aging, erudite headmaster of a boys boarding school.

"They're very in love," Mangan said. "They're very successful. Everything's great. Then they come to L.A. and meet Matt LeBlanc."

Enticed by the promises of an American broadcast network president (John Pankow), Sean and Beverly travel to Hollywood to remake their show. Sean is excited about the prospect; Beverly isn't, but she humors him.

Sean "sees life as the glass half full, and Beverly sees the glass as an idiot," Greig said. "Beverly is just horrified at [Hollywood]. And Sean is delighted by it. And therein lies the comedy and the horror."

There's plenty of horror. Because of the interference of network executives, "Lyman's Boys" transmogrifies into "Pucks!" — a comedy about LeBlanc, a kids hockey coach.

And the fictional Matt LeBlanc is sort of an arrogant, egotistical jerk. Amusingly so.

"It's more fun to have a fictional Matt LeBlanc than a fictional character with a different name," said creator/executive producer/writer David Crane, of "Friends."

Underrated for his 12 years playing Joey Tribbiani, LeBlanc is hilarious in a role that the arrogant, fictional Matt LeBlanc would never have accepted.

Why did he accept it?

"[David] Schwimmer said no," LeBlanc deadpanned.

Shameless (Sunday, Jan. 10, 11 p.m., Showtime) • To call this show "quirky" would be a massive understatement. It's downright weird, thoroughly adult (including full-frontal male nudity and sex scenes) and yet somehow heartwarming.

William H. Macy stars as Frank, the drunken, single father of six, um, eclectic kids ranging from a toddler to young adults. He's a terrible father, and the kids are pretty much left to their own devices — lots of sex and not-so-legal activities.

And then Frank meets agoraphobic housewife Sheila (Joan Cusack), whose teenage daughter has been performing oral sex on two of his sons.

"Shameless," which is based on the U.K. series of the same title, tries too hard to be way beyond quirky. But there's a weird sweetness to it, too.

Scott D. Pierce's column appears Mondays and Fridays in The Mix. He can be reached at or 801-257-8603.