The Comedians has yet to figure out what kind of show it wants to be. Granted, we’re only two episodes deep into its first season, and comedies tend to take more time to develop a consistent timbre from one installment to the next. Criticizing the series for being an amorphous blend of workplace comedy, behind the scenes comedy, and celebrity comedy feels like a cheapshot. But the absence of a prevailing tone from “Pilot” to this week’s “Come to the House” announces itself very, loudly, so much so that the effect distracts from some quality one-liners.
That’s right: The Comedians shows up in the laugh departments in its latest outing, which again feels a bit like overstatement except for the fact that the writers didn’t bother to include more than a handful of jokes in the premiere. If there’s a problem with “Come to the House” and its punchlines, it’s that most of them wind up allocated to Josh Gad. This isn’t a strictly losing proposition, of course, because Gad is a funny dude when he does Gad-specific things, and “Come to the House” lets him do exactly that. Unlike “Pilot”, in which he wears his youthful conceitedness on the brim of his Panama hat, “Come to the House” sees Gad in full awkward nebbish mode as he tries to warm up to the cantankerous Billy Crystal in the midst of professional disagreements.
Actually, we can stop right here for a moment to consider The Comedians and its stakes. “Come to the House” begins with a dispute between Josh and Billy over how best to shoot a sketch for the show; Josh thinks the piece would work best as a filmed bit, while Billy asserts his preference to perform in front of a live audience. That’s a fine starting place for an episode, but it winds up going nowhere. By the time “Come to the House” ends, the skit is all but forgotten. The only impact the stars’ squabble has is in the departure of Steven Weber’s Jamie, who can abide neither their caterwauling nor the unspoken discomfort of reuniting with Billy. When Jamie leaves, it feels like a big deal, but the moment feels abrupt. Why isn’t this happening later in the season? Barring that, why is this happening in an episode that’s mostly centered in Billy’s home?
If The Comedians is fundamentally broken, it’s because of drama. Look, if you put people who are naturally, intrinsically amusing together and let them bounce off of one another, you’re going to wind up with an amusing show. If you put them together but leave them bereft of tangible conflict, you’re going to wind up with a slog. “Come to the House” eventually sees Josh heading to Billy’s house for dinner, by invitation of his wife, Sharon (played by Dana Delany), and making an ass of himself; Billy and his coterie of pals, which consists of Sugar Ray Leonard, Joe Torre, and, for whatever reason, Will Sasso, are watching a Clippers playoff game in that highly ritualized way sports nuts do, and unsurprisingly Josh doesn’t fit in. It’s a tried-and-true set-up, and Gad makes the most of the trope with a few killer one-liners (one of which succinctly addresses Sasso’s inexplicable presence among legends).
But as much as this is funny, the development necessary to give it bite is missing. That’s true for most of the episode, particularly in head writer Mitch’s (Steve Oberg) attempts to get PA Esme (Megan Ferguson) to do what PAs do and fetch coffee; the laughs are there, but the intangible “stuff” that makes us care about the characters and their discord isn’t. If The Comedians can’t fill in the gap, it’s never going to find its legs.
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing about film for the web 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. Currently he has given up on shaving.