The Roush Review: The Comedians Is Missing the Joke

Frank Ockenfels/FX

A sour dark comedy about a showbiz partnership forged in Hollywood hell, The Comedians is shocking only in its lack of originality. Even if the mock-documentary format it needlessly employs weren’t so played out, after being exposed to fresher and funnier satires like The Larry Sanders Show, The Comeback and Episodes, it’s hard to feign surprise when mammoth egos collide behind the scenes.

As the generationally incompatible team of Billy (Crystal) & Josh (Gad), working on a train-wreck sketch-comedy show for FX–though the glimpses we get of their work looks like something that would more likely air on Comedy Central on an off night–the stars are bravely willing to look their worst. Especially Gad, whose character is seen as perilously insecure and ludicrously incapable of civility or common sense in his interactions with his elder and better. Neither actor is particularly sympathetic or reveals any intriguing depths of ambition or emotion other than petulance at being yoked together in this misbegotten enterprise. (When they get stoned en route to a Kids Choice-style awards show in a future episode, the jokes are as lazy as the situation.)

The supporting cast isn’t much help, including Stephnie Weir in a twitchy cartoon caricature of a fear-driven producer and Matt Oberg vanishing into the bland role of the show-within-a-show’s pathetically mousy head writer, who has an unrequited crush on a snarky PA (Megan Ferguson) who blithely ignores most of her duties.

I kept waiting for The Comedians to provoke laughter—something only a terrific Mel Brooks cameo in the fourth episode accomplishes, all too briefly. Brooks’s unprintable joke about BFF Carl Reiner made me wish FX had commissioned a project spotlighting those immortal legends. But back to the fictional The Billy & Josh Show, which begs a revision of the time-honored show-biz sentiment: Must this show (either of them) go on?

The Comedians, series premiere, Thursday, April 9, 10/9c, FX