Free Agents: A Tale of Two Stephens

Let’s start with the first episode of the UK version.  Alex and Helen come in the day after their one-night stand. Stephen welcomes the staff with some salty language, and then starts the meeting with the most important issue: who was lucky to have sex the night before. Alex has to answer first, and he comes up with a wild story that includes descriptions of sexual positions that may or may not exist. Later, when Alex interviews someone who wants representation, Stephen sees her, and immediately starts licking the window. This scene is featured a lot in the promos. We get the idea that Stephen is tough, and has some pretty racy sexual tastes.

Compare that to the US pilot. The “who had sex last night” scene is repeated, along with Alex making up some sexual positions. However, he’s surprised to learn that one of them exists…because Stephen shows it to him on his iPad.

Before that, Stephen does a strange thing…he gives Alex a neck massage while telling him how he got over his first divorce with a trip to St.Barts. But, if he’s just as kinky as the UK Stephen, the show makes sure that isn’t shown too much, FCC and all that.

In the second UK episode, we see more of Stephen, partly because Alex has to be his roommate for a while while his apartment is being renovated. The other reason, though, is that we seem him stunned that he’s fallen in love with a girl named Annie, who not like the women he usually dates. Seeing him lying on a couch, totally puzzled that he has found a woman who asks about his kids attractive, is a really great scene. We later see him preparing for the big date, saying he’ll be wearing a nice Armani with a thong underneath. Sadly, the date doesn’t work out, when he gets really inappropriate in so many ways.

If the NBC version had lasted longer, the writers would have been wise to give him more lines and a A-plot more often. It would have least gotten the Buffy audience, or even thouse who remember him from the Taster’s Choice ads.

In the second episode of the US version, he has a scene sharing an elevator with Alex and Helen, talking about how they’re trying to keep a client. He decides Alex can take him out to dinner. Stephen could do it but he has to go to San Francisco to see his step-son’s tap dance recital…but he’s 40 years old. Head was better in the third episode, where he assigns Emma to make a big presentation instead of Alex. He tries to explain it to Alex with an American sports metaphor, but doesn’t understand any of them except women’s beach volleyball. Actually, it was a way to help Alex work a little harder, and it worked.

As for the show itself, the original is miles ahead of the US version. Stephen Mangan and Sharon Horgan are wonderful as Alex and Helen, the reluctant couple who have a ton of baggage between them: a messy divoce for him and too many pictures of her dead fiance for her. It also features the couple, and Head, more often than the US version, While Hank Azaria and Kathyrn Hahn made an interesting couple as the American Alex and Helen, there was way too much of the wacky staff, including Natasha Leggero as Emma. She was funny in the second episode where she’s trying to ask out a sexy stockbroker. I wasn’t happy with the third episode, where Helen spent much of the episode saying that she doesn’t need therapy, especially to Alex’s therapist…who she dates.

You can learn more about the original Free Agents at the BBC America site. All four episodes of the US version are still available on the NBC site or through Hulu.

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