01st Apr2015

‘The Comedians’ – Season One (P)review

by Nathan Smith

Stars: Billy Crystal, Josh Gad, Stephnie Weir, Megan Ferguson | Created by Larry Charles, Ben Wexler, Billy Crystal, Matt Nix

the-comedians

Isn’t awkward humor on a television series the best? You’re sitting there watching the show, letting the actors and the script do their job and as the awkwardness bores a hole through you, realization dawns on you that you’re seeing peak comedy at its finest. There were great awkward shows in their prime, The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm come to mind and I can see The Comedians (premiering April 9th in tandem with Louie) as joining that pantheon.

The Comedians fits thematically with the two previous shows I mentioned, The Office for its documentary asthetic and Curb Your Enthusiasm for its improve-ish stylings. It’s a show that comes right out of the gate, fully formed and fully realized, a serialized improvised show that’s scripted. It’s a lot to weigh on, but in the nine episodes FX sent out to critics, one thing is clear, it’s often funny, often tender and often golden.

One particular highlight of the show, is an episode where Billy Crystal goes toe to toe with a comedy legend and their banter is so brilliant and clearly improvised that one wishes there was just an episode where they traded stories and jokes back and forth.
It’s a highly exaggerated world where nice guy Crystal is often playing against type by being “a some of the time schmuck,” albeit a tender one, and where Josh Gad is playing his slobby, often stoned counterpart. The way the two actors play off of each other is great, there’s a sense of partnership and a sense of the two wanting to kill each other over minor and major quibbles. Parking spaces, awkward birthdays, a stoned journey to the grocery store are some of the fuyn events that these leads take us on and you just sit in and bask in the funny, painful journey. The actors are more than willing to send up their offscreen personas by jabbing at their onscreen personas until all that’s left is a bloody, pulpy mess.

There are little interstitials that cut into the show itself where we see the sketches that Billy and Josh are performing for their audience and again showcases the snappy writing and excellent physical comedy of both the performers. These are great little sides for the overall low-key nature of the show.

Because the events of the show are “real,” meaning we’re watching FX (a network that loves to poke fun of itself in this series) and the staff and Crystal and Gad struggle to get this show off the ground despite the efforts to destroy the thing from in front of and behind the cameras. Awkward writers, pretty but naïve staffers and the vain actors all but seemingly dismantle the show’s progress and the studio seemingly eats it all up as great press. The little interoffice quibbles feel real and painful all the same, you can sense that these things really, truly go on behind the scenes, but this time it’s being filtered through the cameras of this unnamed documentary crew.

The creators: Larry Charles (who has a great cameo in the premiere), Ben Wexler, Crystal and Matt Nix all come from varying writing backgrounds and understand that with comedy, we must have characters we can actually hang our hats on. There’s Stephnie Weir’s awkward Kristen, a character that’s just a hot mess but provides many laughs from her standoffish nature. Or Megan Ferguson doing great things as the put upon but wry Esme. Whether she’s stealing from the company or doling Ecstasy to Gad, she’s got this subversive acting style that really stands out.

There’s also an episode late in the first season, “Billy’s Birthday,” where Crystal gives a monologue that tugs at your heartstrings and doesn’t go for the easy joke. It’s a well-written episode that could earn Emmys should it be nominated.

Bottom line, with characters you like, laughs that come often and fast, and episodes that you devour and beg for more, The Comedians is a surefire win for a network with top-tier entertainment.

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