Wednesday, April 15, 2015

TV Watch: I thought FX's "The Comedians" with Billy Crystal and Josh Gad was actually pretty funny


Episode 2 of The Comedians airs tomorrow night on FX. I'll definitely be watching, or at least recording.

"Last year, according to FX's data, three hundred and fifty-two scripted first-run prime-time and late-night programs aired on broadcast, cable, and streaming networks in the U.S., not including PBS. . . . When people angrily tweet at me that some show is the best thing on TV, I know they're lying: they haven't watched most of the other ones, and neither have I."
-- New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum (see below)

by Ken

In an April 13 piece that was in fact about Better Call Saul (which we may at some point need to come back to), The New Yorker's Emily Nussbaum unreeled some staggering TV stats:
TV is triage these days. While it used to be possible to catch up with every ambitious drama -- during that golden era of TV efficiency, when there were only five of them -- that's no longer true. At this year's Television Critics Association meetings, FX's C.E.O., John Landgraf, a prolific producer himself, presented a report that was highly alarming, at least to television critics. Last year, according to FX's data, three hundred and fifty-two scripted first-run prime-time and late-night programs aired on broadcast, cable, and streaming networks in the U.S., not including PBS. Joe Adalian, crunching the stats at New York's Vulture, swrote that the number of new prime-time scripted cable shows had "doubled in just the past five years, tripled since 2007 (the year Mad Men premiered), and grown a staggering 683 percent since the turn of the century." When people angrily tweet at me that some show is the best thing on TV, I know they're lying: they haven't watched most of the other ones, and neither have I.
The dirty secret, though, or at least I assume it's a secret, is that they're probably 99.9 percent crap. While the technical and financial resources now exist for the producers of those 352 scripted first-run prime-time and late-night programs to deliver shows that are pretty much comparable to network product, that doesn't mean they're any better than network product. They just go through different filtering mechanisms.

(Peripheral note: This week I watched as much as I could bear of an episode of possibly the most talked-about show on the air now, Game of Thrones. My goodness! I didn't expect it to be any good, but I didn't expect to be unable to get through it.)

"Under these conditions," Emily N continues, "the question of where to invest one's attention becomes more complicated." And indeed it does. My suggestion might be: a good book. (I've been reading a lot of Edith Wharton lately.)

I realize that in televisual terms, I tend to look for the presence of people who've done work that I enjoyed. No guarantees, though. Over the weekend, for example, after somehow not getting around to watching any of the first two seasons of The Americans -- on Mr. Landgraf's own FX network -- I binge-watched Season 3-to-date. That's the show that stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as a seemingly all-American couple in D.C. who are in fact Soviet-born citizens who were groomed to be perfectly implantable in the U.S. of A. as spies working for the cause of world betterment through the hammer and sickle.

Which, come to think of it, is sort of the way Matthew implanted himself into American TV, though perhaps not in the service of global domination of his native Wales, as Kevin, the gay Walker brother, in ABC's Brothers and Sisters. That itself was a show I didn't get around to till after it had completed its five-season network run, and really enjoyed, at least the first four seasons' worth, and maybe even a little of the fifth. And as I recall, at first I didn't realize he wasn't, you know, one of us. I had to make a point of watching the Mystery of Edwin Drood adaptation in which he starred just to see him speaking in, as it were, his native tongue.

(More recently I went through more or less the same thing with The Good Wife's Matthew Goode, I guess when he turned up in Downton Abbey's "Moorland Holiday." As I've noted before, these British moles are all over the damned place. I guess we for sure need to be watchful when it comes to actors named Matthew. I see that Matthew G played George Wickham, whoever that is, in Death Comes to Pemberley, but I only watched about ten minutes of that, and he played no less than played Charles Ryder in the second TV version of Brideshead Revisited, but I haven't seen that.)

As you may gather from the fact of my weekend binge-watch, I didn't dislike The Americans. I'll certainly watch the rest of Season 3. (Episode 12 of the season's 13 airs on FX tonight at 10pm.) I don't feel any burning need to catch up on the missed seasons, though, which tells me something.

I bring it up because it was while I was negotiating the "On Demand" listings to snare episodes of The Americans, I noticed The Comedians listed right below it on the FX shows list. (Yes, they're alphabetized under "The.") And I remembered that Billy Crystal was involved in a show of that name, though I didn't know anything more about it. I thought maybe it was a documentary about some group of comedians, maybe?

Now Billy Crystal in my book is somebody, as an actor and as a writer and director. He has produced a pretty substantial body of really good work, and a decent body of great work. He's somebody I take seriously. So, courtesy of "On Demand," I watched the first episode of The Comedians. I see that it got "generally mixed reviews," but you know what? I kind of liked it.

The premise wasn't encouraging. It's supposed to be a documentary about the making of a series that Billy Crystal and Josh Gad (whom you may remember as the president's nitwit son Skip in the mercifully short-lived series 1600 Penn (of which he was a co-creator an executive producer), whose short-livedness is a frequent topic of mention on the new show. But you know, premises don't tell us much about whether a show is going to be made to work, and so far I think this one is being made to work. As the first episode opens, Billy is driving to the studio to talk about a show he has been pitching, in which he plays all the parts, of both genders, sort of Tracey Ullman-style, except that from the snatches we see, it looks ghastly. He assumes, though, that his project is being picked up, since the studio wouldn't call him in to deliver a "no," as he explains to the documentary camera. For that they call -- or text.

A brilliant turn by Denis O
Alas, Billy's only partly right. The network wants him, but not in his project. What he learns from the network president -- an utterly brilliant turn by that great actor Denis O'Hare (the episode's worth watching just for his incarnation of a small-time network suit) -- is that his project contains just too much him. No, the network wants to pair Billy with an edgy young comic, the aforementioned Josh Gad, who is presented as (or at least it seemed to me) as an utter schmuck, not unlike his 1600 Penn character. His "edge" consists of drivelous droppings of pointless shock, like working in the word "cock" at every opportunity, without any consideration of whether it has any entertainment value beyond shock.

Billy's reality check comes not from the network president but from his own agent: that they have no interest in him without the schmuck. So his choice is between signing on to this bizarre mishmosh or going back to looking for work.

The fictional Billy character is no saint, and in fact engages in a fair amount of bad behavior of his own, like summarily firing the fictional show's director, Larry Charles (who is in fact one of the developers and executive producers as well as the director of the pilot) -- and then wanting to make sure there are no bad feelings beteween him and Larry. I don't know, maybe it won't pan out, but like I said, I actually enjoyed that first show. I'm not saying that I didn't mind it, but that I actually enjoyed it, which is another category altogether.

I bring this up tonight because you won't be able to tell much from my yammering, and if you want to check it out for yourself, since FX has it airing on Thursday nights, we get another crack at it tomorrow night. And with standard cable repeats, it should be easily possible to catch up on the already-aired episode even if you don't have "On Demand."

FX has paired The Comedians in a Thursday 10pm hour with a new season of Louis C.K.,'s Louie. This is kind of touchy for me, as I still have all of the last season of Louie on my DVR, having been unable to coax myself to watch it. I don't know, maybe I'll take a look at the new shows, or at least record them.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home