If you heard the sound of rubber on asphalt while watching The Comedians this week, take solace: You weren’t the only one. After spending its preceding duo of episodes setting up some respectable stakes for bumbling heroes Billy and Josh to contend with, last night’s “Go For Gad” elected to take a break from its meta industry politicking (though meta details still smuggle themselves into the plot anyways) and focus on some good old fashioned character bonding. Considering that our leading men tend to bicker and squabble with one another, the big throughline of “Go For Gad”—Billy’s stated concerns for Josh—feels a little bit disingenuous, or perhaps unexpected.
But it’s key to remember that The Comedians has sort of, kind of paid better attention to the development of Billy’s professional relationship with Josh recently, too. That Billy might actually give a damn about Josh’s feelings isn’t totally out of the realm of possibility. This is The Comedians, though, so it’s just as likely that he’s jealous of Josh, too, and “Go For Gad” plays that out by putting Billy in a room with, of all people, McG. At first the idea that Billy might envy Josh feels disingenuous. People (including Dana Delany, donning a grippy yoga outfit in her return as Fictitious Mrs. Crystal) simply suggest his resentment. Billy waves off the accusations at first, but before long he’s on the horn with his agent, trying to figure out a way to get back into features. Turns out it’s hard to work when you blow up at a heckler in a live audience in 2015.
It’d be nice if “Go For Gad” made more of Billy’s public embarrassment, particularly given its current relevance. Comedians are under a spotlight of scrutiny more now than ever thanks to technology and social media, after all, but this potentially robust narrative never receives meaningful exploration. Instead, we’re stuck on Josh’s rising star. Can you imagine a nebbish like Gad in a Martin Scorsese picture? If Jonah Hill can do it, there’s no reason Gad can’t. That’s the struggle driving “Go For Gad.” Josh is up for the part of “Jew lawyer” in Scorsese’s next gangster project. Billy encourages Josh but warns him to temper his hopes, lest they be dashed. There’s a hint of selfishness in Billy’s advice—it doesn’t take much detective work to deduce that Billy would rather not pick up the pieces if Josh loses the role. At the same time, his intentions are honest. Billy tells Josh about the time he was up for the character of Quint in Jaws. Nobody can picture Crystal in Jaws. It’s easier to accept Gad and Hill as mafia consiglieres than to accept Crystal as Robert Shaw (though Gad’s interest in a mob flick contrasts with Crystal’s top billing in Analyze This).
Everything that occurs outside of the A-plot is superfluous. Technically speaking, that’s true of every sitcom subplot ever, but the continued tension between Esme and Mitch goes nowhere and Kristen just does what Kristen does. Far more memorable are the comings and goings of Josh, who has committed to a juice fast, hired Taylor Negron as his acting coach, and generally turned into a bit of a prima donna ever since Scorsese first approached him. (Negron sadly passed away in January of this year after battling liver cancer. “Go For Gad” ends with a brief, touching commemoration to his memory.) None of this stops Stephnie Weir from milking the hell out of her big scene with Josh, who wants to practice crying for his audition; he asks her to tell him something sad, and she leaps from the show being cancelled to his grandmother dying. (Add “meat confetti” to the modern lexicon of gross.) At the same time, “Go For Gad” serves the supporting cast poorly.
Maybe that’s acceptable collateral damage, though, because The Comedians appears to have learned from Mel Brooks’ advice in “Celebrity Guest”: It’s trusting its principals. But The Comedians’ growing pains remain at a surface level. We can see the writing adapting from one installment to the next with each lesson learned. The series only needs Billy and Josh to gel in order to work, but there’s no reason their antics can’t harmonize with those of the secondary actors.
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing online about film since 2009, and has been scribbling for Paste Magazine since 2013. He also contributes to Screen Rant, Movie Mezzanine, and Badass Digest. You can follow him on Twitter. He is composed of roughly 65% Vermont craft brews.