'The Comedians': SXSW Review

A limp backstage comedy.

SXSW gets a peek at Billy Crystal and Josh Gad's new FX series.

A mockumentary almost as lame as the ill-conceived skit-comedy show whose creation it purports to depict, The Comedians offers Billy Crystal and Josh Gad as a comic team thrown together by producers who couldn't care less if they have chemistry so long as they hit the right demographic targets. One wonders how close satire is to truth here, as this unlikely pair slogs through backstage conflict with little apparent help from director and exec-producer Larry Charles. These three names will draw some attention to the FX series, a remake of the Swedish series Ulveson & Herngren, but based on the two episodes shown at SXSW, that attention may be short-lived.

The premise is that Crystal (playing himself, as is Gad) is developing a one-man skit show called Billy & Billy. We see one bit he's already shot — a godawful riff on When Harry Met Sally's fake-orgasm scene in which he plays himself, Meg Ryan and the "I'll have what she's having" lady — before learning that producers are passing. Or rather, they're just recasting the second "Billy," suggesting that Crystal should do the show with Gad, whom he has never met.

Read more Billy Crystal Explains TV Return in 'The Comedians'

In the actors' first encounter, Crystal tries to be open while Gad drops landmine-like pseudo-compliments, as when he says "my grandparents were excited" to learn he'd be working with the older comedian. The cringe-com vibe is overfamiliar and unpromising but comes briefly to life when the two find a joke they can toss back and forth between them, each adding something until Gad drops it with a thud. The pilot goes downhill once the two get to work on the show-within-a-show, finding time for multiple irritable-bowel jokes and a badly dated transsexual bit.

The second episode here, Red Carpet, centers on the kind of petty showbiz competitiveness that would have brought down the house if it played out between Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) and Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) on 30 Rock. Suffice to say that it doesn't here. The episode's centerpiece is a dull stretch in which Crystal tries to handle Gad's young-person-grade pot, and the two raid a supermarket after getting the munchies.

That dullness is preferable, though, to the three projectile-vomit gags in the episode's juvenile Anthony Bourdain parody. At least nine episodes of The Comedians are in the can, and if the title of one ("Orange You the New Black Guy") is any indication, it doesn't get more highbrow from here.


Production company: FX Networks

Cast: Billy Crystal, Josh Gad, Stephnie Weir, Megan Ferguson, Denis O'Hare

Director: Larry Charles

Screenwriters: Ben Wexler, Matt Nix, Larry Charles, Billy Crystal, Andrew Secunda

Executive producers:  Ben Wexler, Larry Charles, Matt Nix

No rating, 45 minutes