“The Comedians” is like a boyfriend your sister brings home on spring break. You don’t really like him but you’ve got to be nice.
Obviously trying to rip a page from Lisa Kudrow’s “The Comeback," Billy Crystal and Josh Gad try to give a behind-the-scenes look at making a sitcom where the two leads don’t really get along.
Crystal plays Billy Crystal. Gad plays Josh Gad. They’re heightened versions of their personalities and the goal is to show how two generations of comic actors deal from different decks.
Often, the decks are stacked.
Crystal just looks cranky; Gad comes off as obnoxious.
Because he doesn’t have a big screen history, the TV Josh Gad plays the dilettante who has no clue about the history (or traditions) of comedy. His past (as a star of “The Book of Mormon” and Olaf in “Frozen”) slips in. But it’s simply used as a device to separate two who don’t seem that far apart. Casting someone a little less mainstream (“Saturday Night Live’s” Pete Davidson, for example) might have made this premise work.
As is, “The Comedians” just seems anxious.
In an early episode, Crystal invites Gad over to his house to watch a basketball game with friends. Dana Delany plays Crystal’s wife (which further muddies the water – “Did Billy marry Dana Delany?”); Sugar Ray Leonard, Joe Torre and Will Sasso turn up as his friends. Before Gad even gets to the door you know he’s not going to fit in, isn’t going to adhere to the rules and, at some point, will play a riff on his Elder Cunningham persona from “Mormon.” Check, check and check.
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The comedy is so predictable there’s no room for timing.
Far better? Stephnie Weir as the show’s producer, Matt Obert as its head writer, Megan Ferguson as a lazy writer and, wait for it, Steven Weber as the show’s transgender director.
Weber is so good on so many levels you want him to get his own “Transparent.”
When the second bananas nudge the top ones, “The Comedians” has laughs. When it leaves the two to play out a tired game of “The Sunshine Boys,” they vanish.
Television’s age game – so beautifully detailed in “The Comeback” and “Episodes” – almost seems like an afterthought here – a way to get Gad and Crystal on the same bill. They’re not compatible or likely to bring either demographic into the tent.
Both are funny men (particularly when they’re not spoofing their own work) but they don’t need an impression to get a laugh out of two originals.
“The Comedians” airs at 9 p.m. Thursday on FX.