Why ‘The Comedians’ Doesn’t Have Critics Laughing

In recent years, FX has become known as the home of several acclaimed off-beat comedies, like Louie. But it seems The Comedians, its latest entry starring Billy Crystal and Josh Gad, isn’t quite measuring up to some of the other shows on the network’s slate. The new series is set to launch on Thursday night, but the critical consensus already seems to be in: The Comedians just isn’t all that funny.

Based on the Swedish series Ulveson & Herngren, the documentary-style show stars the two comic actors as fictionalized versions of themselves. Crystal is an aging comedy vet trying to keep his career afloat while Gad is a hot young comedian on the rise. The two don’t exactly get along, but are forced to put aside their disdain for each other after fictional FX executives request that they team up on a straight-to-series, 13-episode show, The Billy and Josh Show. 

Format-wise, the series seems to take note from both The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm, with direct-to-camera interviews and up-close shots of the awkward moments between Crystal and Gad. But that’s not the only part of the show that will be familiar to audiences. The meta “show-within-a-show” aspect is one we’ve seen all-too-often recently, including on NBC’s 30 Rock, Showtime’s Episodes, and HBO’s The Comeback. Unfortunately, as several reviewers have been quick to point out, The Comedians fails to pull it off as well as some of the aforementioned titles. Instead, the series quickly turns formulaic, churning out predictable gags and expected punchlines. As Time put it, “…The inside-the-funny-business-business premise has been tackled many ways by now. And in its first four episodes, The Comedians will repeat nearly every one of those ways, not to its advantage.”

The lackluster reviews may come as a surprise to many, given that well-known comedic names like Crystal and Gad are at the wheel. But it seems the real problem isn’t necessarily the stars, it’s the material they have to work with. Both can only go so far within the assumed dynamic: Crystal starts a conversation or sets up a joke only to have Gad come in and do or say the absolute worst thing and ruin it all. “Every time Crystal is building up a head of steam, the script requires Gad to screw everything up for both of them, much to Billy’s disapproval,” HitFix writes. “The latter is meant to be the primary source of humor in the scene…but it’s the set-up that winds up being the most appealing part of the show.”

That’s not to say the show isn’t without its good elements. While their characters’ back-and-forth may get old fast, Gad and Crystal do have chemistry, and there are times when having the two confront the age difference between them pays off. These scenes are boosted by a great supporting cast, particularly Stephanie Weir, who is getting tons of critical praise for her portrayal of producer Kristen. As IGN described of Weir’s character, “Her inability to be abrasive in order to get things done, coupled with the actors’ high demands is a complete comedic match.”

In the end though, it may be best to not think of The Comedians as a comedy at all, despite its name. As several have pointed out, the show is more of a half-hour drama with sporadic funny moments than it is a full-blown comedy, and thinking of it as the latter will only hinder the experience of watching it. Per Forbes, “As long as audiences don’t go in expecting wall-to-wall laughs, they should, in the end, find things to enjoy about the series.”

The Comedians premieres Thursday, April 9 at 10 p.m. on FX.

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