Roush Review: ‘I’m Dying Up Here’ Needs to Lighten Up

roush review
Justina Mintz/SHOWTIME
Ari Graynor in I'm Dying Up Here

Making a drama about comedy can’t be easy, but the strain is so evident in I’m Dying Up Here, a preachy period piece executive produced by Jim Carrey about desperate stand-ups in 1970s L.A., that it begins to resemble flop sweat.

A mostly talented cast can’t rise above a suffocating tone of self-importance—reminiscent of NBC’s failed Studio 50 on the Sunset Strip—that makes too much of the profane banter feel inauthentic. Or maybe I’m just immune to the appeal of sad clowns.

“People that love us, they’re the ones that do the suffering,” says a veteran comic, but almost everyone’s miserable on this Strip, pining to be discovered on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson (the legendary TV host impersonated with a misanthropic chill by Dylan Baker) and seething with envy when another in their midst catches a lucky break.

I’m Dying Up Here, at its best in those bleary wee-hours moments when comedians feel most free to bust each others’ chops, would feel much more alive if it had a sharper and less maudlin focus. Ari Graynor is especially strong as up-and-coming female-in-a-man’s-world Cassie, forever begging cantankerous club owner Goldie (Melissa Leo overacting her contrived role) to give her edgy act a prime spot, but even she can’t redeem her romantic subplot with the show’s least appealing character, an unaccountably smug jerk of a comic, stiffly played by Andrew Santino.

I might even watch an entire show built around the whimsical misadventures of two Boston kids (Michael Angarano and Clark Duke, both standouts) barely scraping by as they wait for an opportunity, angling to be picked on Monty Hall’s Let’s Make a Deal and so eager to perform they’ll do a gig for elderly patrons of a Polish deli in the Valley.

Now that’s funny. In this series, that’s a rarity.

I’m Dying Up Here, Series Premiere, Sunday, June 4, 10/9c, Showtime