I sat down last night and watched FX’s new series, “The Comedians.” After all, how could I not, it stars Josh Gad and Billy Crystal, two terribly funny people (for what it’s worth, I was insanely impressed by Gad when I met him – he seemed like a genuinely nice, genuinely concerned about the project in question at that time, person).
For those unaware, the show essentially features Gad and Crystal playing versions of themselves who are filming a sketch comedy series. The two do not like each other but need one another for the series to be on the air and presumably much of the humor is going to revolve around each’s distaste for the other.
Or, I think it will. The pilot certainly sets it up that way, but goodness knows what is going to happen in the second episode. It isn’t a stretch in any way to say that there have been multiple series that have worked for years on end that focused on the main characters not liking each other. It is a tried and true technique.
The real question is whether or not they are going to be able to find enough funny fake things to hate. Celebrities playing slightly off versions of themselves is also nothing new, see Neil Patrick Harris in the “Harold and Kumar” franchise or James Van Der Beek in “Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23.” But, those two were also not the focus of the respective projects, they were supporting players and while Seinfeld played a character named Seinfeld on “Seinfeld,” he wasn’t really a celebrity when the show began.
I do think it’s possible to make a series in this vein that will work, but the key is going to have to be that nothing is off-limits. If these guys are going to hate each other, they’re going to have to hate each other, and if they’re going to lampoon Hollywood and the way television shows get made, they’re really going to have to be cutting.
It could be brilliant to watch Crystal and Gad go off each week and fight some new and different and wonderful fight about making their show and about what the other one is doing, in their eyes, to ruin it. There certainly is enough to lampoon about each of them and Hollywood to make it work. That show is a series I would absolutely watch on a regular basis.
I did chuckle last night at the pilot, but I also felt some pangs of concern. One example — why make more than one “1600 Penn” joke? We get it, the show didn’t work and was off the air quickly. Why hit that twice in the pilot (maybe come back to it once a week every week for the entire run of the series instead)?
There didn’t seem to be a “Frozen” joke last night even if Gad had an Olaf in his dressing room. They also didn’t seem to make a “Soap” joke, and presumably one is coming down the line.
But, wow, how depressing is that? Guessing which of their previous projects “The Comedians” is going to crack wise about? The next step is guessing when each of the jokes is going to appear and that really ruins any of the comedy.
I don’t know where it’s going to be, but to work “The Comedians” is going to have to go (dark) places we don’t expect it to go. I am certainly keeping my fingers crossed that it finds the right tone and becomes successful, because Gad and Crystal are two comic geniuses who could really be great together.
photo credit: Ray Mickshaw/FX