Thursday, April 09, 2015

'The Comedians'

On the FX comedy The Comedians, Billy Crystal and Josh Gad play versions of themselves who are pathologically desperate for attention and validation, and who reluctantly team up for a sketch-comedy show even though they have no chemistry or creative compatibility or mutual respect. That doesn't seem too far from the truth about this show, which is strained and painfully unfunny, bringing out the worst in its two already hammy leads. The format itself is tired, with more disingenuous self-deprecation from celebrities playing fictionalized versions of themselves, alongside a parade of awkward cameos.

The jokes about the shallowness and insincerity of show business are cliched, and dated enough that they could have come out of a sitcom from 20 years ago. Crystal seems like he's reluctant to really dig into his persona, so his character is more put-upon than actively unpleasant, but that just makes the potential satire even more lifeless. Gad is more willing to mock himself, but he's not really famous enough to have enough material for mockery (there are far too many jokes about 1600 Penn). The supporting cast features some cliched show business characters (the pretentious writer, the lazy production assistant, the stressed-out producer), and plenty of the humor is just moldy and stale (Steven Weber has an unfortunate two-episode arc as a wildly miscalculated transgender character, and there's an entire episode devoted to Crystal and Gad getting high and wandering a supermarket).

I'm honestly not sure whether the occasional sketches from the show-within-the-show are actually meant to be funny, or meant to be funny because they are terrible, but they don't succeed at either one. I may have been disappointed with the last season of Louie, but at least Louis C.K. is pushing boundaries and expanding the idea of what can be done in a show featuring a celebrity playing himself. Pairing The Comedians with Louie just highlights how backward and regressive and pathetic it is. For a network known to take chances and foster artistic ambition, this is a lazy, clumsy misfire.

Premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on FX.

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