April 10, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “The Comedians”


THE COMEDIANS:  Thursday 10PM on FX – If Nothing Else Is On…

THE COMEDIANS is another trip down meta-comedy lane, with comic actors playing twisted versions of “themselves,” meaning more for Larry David to answer for when he reaches the pearly gates.  It’s based by US creators Billy Crystal, Larry Charles, Matt Nix and Ben Wexler on a Swedish format, although the concept is so skeletal that one wonders just what needed to be imported (and what needed 4 people to develop):  “Billy Crystal” and “Josh Gad” are forced by “FX network executives” (Denis O’Hare plays the FX president, who isn’t named John Landgraf, verisimilitude apparently going only so far) to team up for a new TV sketch comedy show, despite having almost no regard for each other’s work, let alone for each other as people.

It’s all too easy to believe that Crystal and Gad despise each other, and their mutual disdain isn’t funny in the way the show wants it to be.  Watching them for a half hour is like being stuck on an airplane beside a couple who passive-aggressively pick at each other from coast to coast.  Both Crystal and Gad are presented as narcissistic egomaniacs, whish isn’t exactly an original take on showbiz professionals.  They completely lack the charm that Matt LeBlanc’s self-named character has in Episodes, and the plotting doesn’t have either the fantasy nor the roots in recognizable reality that make Curb Your Enthusiasm work.  (The pilot’s punchline is that the director Crystal wants to hire for their show turns out to have become transgender since Crystal had seen him.)

The pilot, with a script credited to all 4 creators and direction by Larry Charles, who also plays “himself” as a director fired by Crystal, is nothing but premise.  The show’s Crystal is a has-been who’s introduced as wanting to do a comedy where he plays all the characters in a When Harry Met Sally sketch.  It might have been interesting to pair him with an edgy, truth-telling modern comic with a sharply different approach to comedy, but even though Gad throws the word “cock” around a few times, that’s not at all what this younger performer is.  The Comedians‘ version of Gad really isn’t much of anything, except someone who gets on Crystal’s nerves.  We don’t get any sense of them as representing different eras or styles of comedy, or for that matter reflecting the idea that nothing in comedy ever really changes–they’re merely tiresome.

The series uses the fake-documentary format that we’ve all gotten to know over the years (although it lacks any acknowledgement within the action that a documentary is being filmed).  So there’s nothing like the jaunty polish of Curb or Episodes, and the production values are grungy and ultra-cheap.

Both Crystal and Gad are gifted funnymen, and each of them had a moment or two in the pilot:  Crystal taking over a meeting between Gad and the show-within-the-show’s producer, Gad going with a pretty girl’s mistaking him for Jonah Hill.  There’s a relief that Gad’s character isn’t as much of an idiot as the one he wrote for himself on the unlamented 1600 Penn (referred to often, although Frozen goes unmentioned).  Perhaps with some time, the performers will generate some kind of rhythm together, and the series itself acquire a point of view.    At its start, though, The Comedians reeks of flop sweat.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."