There is one moment where I really loved what The Comedians was doing. After an unbearably uncomfortable dinner where Josh Gad and Billy Crystal (playing fictionalized versions of themselves) are meeting in preparation for a new show, the two stand outside waiting for valet to bring their cars around. The two of them own up to the dinner not going very well, and they riff off of the awkwardness of the situation. It allows the two comedians’ charm to work through the stale nature of the show. It’s fun, funny, and natural.
I wish I could say that about the rest of the half hour show.
In this mockumentary-style show, Billy Crystal is looking for a comeback but his brand of comedy doesn’t fit with how audiences are taking in television today. He’s too dated, and his jokes are all about the build up and then the well-timed punchline. He’s a comedy legend, but he’s displaced. Josh Gad, on the other hand, fits into the modern comedy zeitgeist, and as he mentions (in a bit I’m not sure how to digest at the moment but more on that later), he wants to reach an all-encompassing demographic. However, despite a run on Broadway and some successful bit roles in films, he’s not polished enough for studios to call him a sure bet. So, the idea is to put these two actors together, hope that they play well off of one another, and see the numbers for the show soar.
Of course, with the documentary premise, things aren’t going to go smoothly, starting with the dinner meeting where the two performers can’t seem to land on the same footing about anything. Josh sticks his foot in his mouth (a running theme on the show), and Billy can’t seem to impress Josh with any of his comedy.
Due to pressure from their agents and the sway of being on a show that’s guaranteed 13 episodes rather than just a pilot run, the two sign up. To the other’s chagrin, they both have their own vision for the sketch show that, in one of the funnier and potentially unintentional gags of the episode, doesn’t seem to be very good or very funny. The one thing they can agree on is the bit where they dance up the street in sailor costumes, both not seeing the humor in it.
Which is a shame because I found it to be one of the funnier bits. However, my taste may be suspect since I think puns are the best. The best parts of the episode were whenever the two actors got along, and their charm shone through, highlighting why the two of them are well-known in the first place. My guess is as the season moves along, they’ll begin to like each other more or at least tolerate each other’s ideas. If that’s the case, I’ll immediately be more prone to enjoying the show. I don’t mind biting comedies, and shows such as It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and You’re the Worst are two of my favorites. Both are also on FX and adopt a similar tone, but there needs to be more to the show than two people bickering.
Stephanie Weir is already posed to steal the show though as the harried producer, bringing a bizarre and manic energy to her role as Kristen. I’d like to see more of her and less of the two leads as the show moves forward. She’s a nice distraction from the show’s darker tone with two–at times–unlikable leads.
It’s her involvement and ability to liven up a scene that brings me to my biggest grievance with the show: the way they have the characters–Josh in particular–talking about their audience and the people around them. Numerous times throughout the episode, people are talking about either getting all-inclusive viewership beyond straight, white old guys, or Josh is talking about getting a female writer for the female experience. On paper, that’s great! However, they don’t follow up on it. It’s still a predominantly white and male cast. The ending scene where Billy’s old friend and partner comes to write for the show and we learn that she’s recently transitioned to a woman almost seems poised to be a punchline. Which, you know, dates the show tremendously, if that is the case.
However, I could be wrong in how I read it, and I hope I am. I guess episode two will further clear things up. Perhaps, it was supposed to be purposefully offensive or confrontational, but I don’t know how that benefits the storyline, when more and more people are talking about the lack of female roles on television.
Despite not being completely sold on the show, I am curious about how they will sustain this idea for an entire season (or longer I’d assume). How much of a storyline can they derive from two comedians who don’t get along and who have different versions of comedy? Hopefully more than what is being suggested, but there are plenty of talented people on board and just enough laughs that I wouldn’t count this one out yet. It’s darker in tone which fits with the FX comedy model, and it’s unconventional in its structure to say the least. It certainly isn’t the immediate success that I’m sure the creators were hoping it would be.
The Comedians airs Thursday nights at 10:00pm on FX.