The Comedians Season 1 is more than just the Josh-Billy show

Billy Crystal, Josh Gad
Billy Crystal, Josh Gad

The Comedians, Season 1
Created by Larry Charles, Billy Crystal, Matt Nix, and Ben Wexler
Premieres Thursday, April 9th at 10 pm ET on FX

FX has, over the years, shown a deft hand at numerous comedic endeavours, from the veteran It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia to the animated spy parody Archer and the Louis CK half hour show Louie. Their latest foray into the genre comes in the form of The Comedians. Adapted from the Swedish series Ulveson and Herngren, The Comedians stars established legendary comedian Billy Crystal and up-and-coming stage and screen star Josh Gad as established legendary comedian Billy Crystal and up-and-coming stage and screen star Josh Gad, who are thrown together by FX to make a sketch comedy show, with all the trials and tribulations that come with it. The show’s first nine episodes establish the series as a delightful new entry that shows the skills of the leads without just playing to their strengths.

Despite being the leads, the best thing about this show is that it doesn’t act as simply a showcase for either Crystal or Gad. Not only does the show effectively build up the characters surrounding them, it also takes the time to round out these fictional versions of Crystal and Gad, giving them genuinely endearing character traits and flaws that go on more than just their public persona. Which is not to say that the characters aren’t somewhat inspired by the real-life versions. But rather than use the performers’ achievements to build them up or put them on a pedestal, the show uses it to enhance the characters, and isn’t above ribbing both performers on their failures. At the same time, it takes great care to show their positive attributes as well, most notably doing both in an episode near the halfway point of the season. Gad and Crystal themselves prove very adept at tackling the material that’s handed to them, as Gad proves that he’s up to the challenge of his biggest onscreen role to date, while Crystal establishes that his talents have not been dulled.

The show also does an intriguing job of showing the similarities and differences between Crystal and Gad, without drawing attention to the fact. Both mirror each other’s actions in things such as trying to bring their friends into the show and practicing awards speeches. The deft manner in which the writers are able to display how this tendency causes friction between the two performers leads to some excellent cringe comedy that manages to both distribute the blame equally and ensure the situation is not anyone’s fault. However, the show doesn’t forget to show genuine moments when the two do get along and relate to each other, which manage to feel earned as a result.

Josh Gad, Stephnie Weir
Josh Gad, Stephnie Weir

This doesn’t mean the focus remains on Gad and Crystal. As the show progresses in its first season, it goes from cringe comedy into more of a workplace comedy, adding more characterisation to its secondary characters in the process. This allows the show to mine humour not just from the reactions of Josh and Billy to what’s going on around them, but also from the reactions of the crew working on the fictional show.  The disconnect between the stars and the crew also allows certain storylines to land well, something the show takes effective advantage of to humorous effect. This also allows a number of secondary characters to have their own storylines, allowing the show to go beyond its two leads and truly become an ensemble show. Fleshing out the other characters gives the show a more cohesive feel as the season continues, along with allowing the story to shift from Billy and Josh on occasion, and veer the comedy into territories that neither one of the duo would be able to occupy comfortably.

There are some hiccups in the season, however. The main one among them is the character of Kristen. The writers seem unsure of what to do with her, and she ends up becoming a somewhat one-note character in her personal life. Her frazzled and barely competent professional nature fits right in with the rest of the workplace, but unlike a few other characters, the focus on her does not result in character development. Stephnie Weir, however, does a wonderful job with what she’s given, and is a delight to watch onscreen. Megan Ferguson is similarly a standout, as she manages to take her character of Esme, who could have been a weak point of the series, and turn her into one of its strengths. Dana Delany, unfortunately, is another hiccup in her role as Billy’s wife Sharon, as she becomes one of the few recurring characters whose talent and charm are not taken advantage of. Delany is an isolated case, however, as other guest performers manage to be more than just gimmick appearances, with most proving themselves able to take some jokes at their expense as well. The in-show sketches vary in quality, but gad and Crystal prove themselves game for whatever comes their way, and it helps establish the chemistry between the performers as well. FX as a network also gets in on the joke a few times, and overall, the show proves itself a delight, hinting at bringing back storylines from the beginning of the season near the end, establishing itself as well worth a watch.

– Deepayan Sengupta

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