Few things are more hilarious than Hollywood gleefully roasting its own agents. Comedy Central’s showbiz satire The Other Two offers two distinct windows into the hellishness of professional representation: On one end of the spectrum is Streeter (Ken Marino), a walking sweat gland who ferries 13-year-old heartthrob crooner Chase Dreams (Case Walker) through teenybopper stardom. On the other end is sweetly incompetent Skip (Richard Kind), a schlub of little dignity and many side hustles who can barely negotiate his actor client’s commercial role as “Man at Party Who Smells Fart.”
TV writers can spot B.S. a mile away, which makes these inside-baseball depictions of the Hollywood machine so deliciously cutting and endlessly watchable. This year, show business has taken over the Emmy race like never before — from Amazon’s candy-colored stand-up comedy fantasy The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel to Netflix’s wistful actors-studio-set The Kominsky Method. And depending on your tolerance level for industry minutiae, this abundance of behind-the-scenes programming will either be your schadenfreude Christmas or feel like more of the same ole Hollywood autoanilingus that keeps the Oscars in perpetual worship of itself.
The Emmys are no stranger to cheerfully bloodletting industry autopsy comedies like The Dick Van Dyke Show, 30 Rock and The Larry Sanders Show. In the past few years, the Emmys have shown favor to comedies like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Inside Amy Schumer, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Atlanta, each of which uproariously exposes the desperation and egotism in the industry. (Remember when the Academy could not stop nominating Episodes, a show that made absolutely zero ripple in the public consciousness?) But in 2019, the field is practically overrun with contenders that trade in the invention and leveraging of onscreen artifice.
On Showtime’s Kidding, Jim Carrey plays an unraveling children’s TV host battling the forces trying to corporatize his free-to-be-you-and-me brand, while existential The Kominsky Method dissects aging in post-stardom Hollywood. On HBO’s Barry, a hitman turned actor confronts his many contradicting layers, all the while pursuing his innate love for performance. Mrs. Maisel is constantly code-switching from ’50s housewife to foul-mouthed comedienne, while GLOW dives into the world of women’s televised wrestling, showcasing how these performers devise personas and combat moves.
However, FX’s Better Things proffers one of this year’s best depictions of Hollywood life, illustrating the troubling on-set politics of shooting a mid-budget action film in a desert, revealing the dangers actors are often placed in when asked to shoot unregulated stunts or spend all day in taxing environments. Pamela Adlon’s labor of love has always reveled in the indignities of aging and motherhood, but elucidating the struggles of character actors in weird situations is one of the auteur’s specialties.
Hollywood is the great oversharer, that babbling, self-indulgent best friend who tells a self-deprecating joke and immediately follows it up with a sweaty “Just kidding!” While TV producers think their viewers are obsessed with the making of the entertainment and the delusions they encounter daily, it’s likely they’re far more bloodthirsty for stories of hilariously despairing social climbers and the grim absurdity behind smoke and mirrors in any subculture. They’ve loved Veep for its political satire, Silicon Valley for its tech mockery and Broad City for its hipster ridicule. If Hollywood keeps insisting on showing how its own sausage is made, audiences are going to eat it up ravenously.
This story first appeared in the June 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.