'Dice': TV Review

Michael Desmond/SHOWTIME
Not bad, but not the Andrew Dice Clay comeback of your dreams.

Andrew Dice Clay's Showtime comeback is uneven, but an Adrien Brody episode shines.

More than 25 years after he was a big enough name to sell out Madison Square Garden on consecutive nights, much-maligned comic icon Andrew Dice Clay has been laying an honorable foundation for a comeback. A strong turn in Woody Allen's Oscar-winning Blue Jasmine and a spectacularly high-intensity guest role in this winter's Vinyl pilot proved that Clay is a performer worthy of some serious consideration.

By that standard, or based on those expectations, Showtime's Dice, created by Scot Armstrong, is a bit of a disappointment. Rather than continuing Clay's progress at actually proving himself more than just the Dice Man, the six-episode comedy is another "He doth protest too much" bit of autobiographical sitcom reinvention fluff. Instead of showing what makes him unique, Clay has just put himself in the same class as Larry David, but also George Lopez, Paul Reiser, Donny Deutsch, Rob Schneider and far too many more; it's the very opposite of unique.

Clay's entry is far from the bottom of this burgeoning genre's particular barrel — Hello, Donny! — and the debut season of Dice actually has some highlights, including a very funny second episode built around an inspired cameo by Adrien Brody, but general unevenness pervades.

Being the Dice Man was all about never having to say you're sorr, and Dice is too much a spineless apology.

"There's a big difference between Andrew, who's in front of you right now, and the guy on stage when I'm performing," Andrew says in the Dice pilot when confronted by his girlfriend's (Natasha Leggero) brother's fiancé before a wedding that's about to fall victim to a string of bad luck, much of it generated by Andrew. You'll notice that nothing about Andrew's protestation is an actual apology, of course. Dice never comes out and says that there was anything wrong with anything he said or did during his stand-up heyday — there's still money in the character, after all — just that the Dice Man was and is a character and that the man himself is insecure and fragile, a generous friend (Kevin Corrigan plays Milkshake, his gravy-sipping buddy) and a sensitive lover. Andrew might occasionally sound brash or uncouth, but he's fundamentally well-meaning. The Dice Man would tear Andrew to shreds, but Dice thinks he deserves a participation trophy, generally in lieu of clear-eyed comedy.

There's a disconnect between Andrew's frequent "It was just a character" rationalizations and the theme of the entire series, which is supposed to be change and flux. If Andrew is the real guy and is a mensch and the Dice Man is just a character, Andrew hasn't changed, circumstances around the Dice Man have changed. That's not interesting drama. Even in the great second episode, which finds Brody following Andrew for a Method investigation into masculinity for an Off Broadway show, suddenly nobody mentions anymore that what Brody really wants is the Dice Man, but he's following Andrew. And certainly nobody mentions that the Dice Man's version of masculinity is one that doesn't mean the same thing in 2016 as it meant in 1990. As I always say, Curb Your Enthusiasm remains the pinnacle of this genre because Larry David doesn't care if you laugh at him for being awful and he doesn't need you to love him. Andrew Dice Clay finds it very important for you to understand that he's not who you think he was, which prevents any clear-eyed examination of who he used to be. It's an idea that's very gently parodied in an episode featuring Cynthia Plaster Caster and a missing replica of Andrew's 1989 penis. That episode, amusing in fits and starts, finds Andrew desperately mythologizing the penis he used to have as everybody reassures him that the penis he currently has is probably perfectly fine, which is about as close as he comes to admitting he used to be a dick.

The Dice version of Andrew is living in Las Vegas, a city that also isn't what it used to be in the '80s and '90s, but also is doing just fine now, thank you very much. From the glitz of The Strip to the city's more strip mall-y expanses, Vegas is nicely used here and lends itself to drop-ins ranging from perfunctory (Wayne Newton) to effective (Criss Angel). The show keeps Clay's status in balance by alternating between people who don't recognize him at all and people who worship him as a deranged God — probably a very accurate depiction of his current level of fame.

Clay is, as we've been increasingly seeing, a good actor, and there are little bits of Dice that let him show that range, generally when he has a good sparring partner. The Brody episode and interactions with Lorraine Bracco and Michael Rapaport, both playing characters and not themselves, help shake Clay/Andrew out of his reliance on Dice Man-style bits, which are hit-and-miss. Leggero is often funny, and she has a strong enough comedic persona of her own to stand up against Clay even at his most brash, but she's stuck playing a character whose independence is mostly about making us respect Andrew and not about making us interested in her.

Maybe the first season of Dice is just Clay and Armstrong easing us into Andrew Dice Clay's new life, giving us permission to like him, and a second season would actually be unflinching? As it stands, the second episode is the only one that I'd strongly recommend out of six episodes, which was enough to keep me watching, but not enough for an overall endorsement. I do, however, strongly endorse Andrew Dice Clay's Vinyl work for a guest acting Emmy nomination, if anybody cares, and I wish Dice were tapping into more of that energy.

Cast: Andrew Dice Clay, Natasha Leggero, Kevin Corrigan
Creator: Scot Armstrong
Airs: Sundays, 9:30 p.m. ET/PT (Showtime)