Stream It While You Can: ‘The Comedians’

Published on March 31, 2020

For a lot of people, there’s no time like now to binge television. Streaming is on the rise on Netflix and other major streaming platforms due to the coronavirus. With people always hungry for what to stream next, we’re going to start recommending a variety of movies and television shows available on the magical Internet. We’re starting with an overlooked and short-lived comedy, The Comedians, which no Billy Crystal fan should’ve missed. 

The Comedians 

The FX comedy only lasted one season. Developed by Crystal, Larry Charles (Curb Your Enthusiasm), and others, the series had success written all over it. Crystal and Josh Gad, who was coming off Frozen and The Book of Mormon hot, was an exciting pairing — a comedy legend and a new voice on the scene. 

FX didn’t waste any advertisement blucks, plastering Crystal and Gad’s faces all over billboards and bus stops. Anticipation was high, but the reviews and ratings were low. They were low enough FX canceled the series after only a single season, and just when it was starting to find its groove and identity. The show, in which the two stars played deeply insecure versions of themselves, should’ve had more life. 

Watch for Billy Crystal 

Shows and movies can get real grandiose real fast about the art of comedy. Being funny is usually preferable to talking about what’s funny. The Comedians is one of the few stories about comedy that accomplished both. 

At its best, the FX series was an outlet for Crystal to express his views, experiences, and thoughts on comedy and performing. There’s something exciting about watching Crystal breakdown the art of a gag no matter how silly. It was infectious and sometimes even wonderful watching Crystal at a more reflective point in his career, fictional or not. 

The Comedians always played best with its few moments of vulnerability from Crystal and Gad. (Gad, by the way, really excels at playing jerks. Watch him in Little Monsters too.)

About midway through season one, there’s a scene in which Crystal talks about death, his younger days, and how much he misses his parents. It’s some of the most real pain Crystal has ever expressed on screen. It hits hard, because it’s Crystal and unexpected from The Comedians. The series didn’t move quickly onto the next joke, either, but instead let the pain simmer. 

The Show Didn’t Get a Chance to Grow 

The FX series easily could’ve gone on longer to dig deeper and explore more of its snippets of melancholy. The Comedians shouldn’t have turned into a drama, of course, but for a show called The Comedians, it’s ironic the dramatic moments are its strongest. Crystal is very funny in the series, of course, but when he gets real, it’s when the show feels more personal and rises above its familiar formula. If The Comedians had the time to get more personal and continue to top its jokes and sketches, it could’ve become one of the more talked about comedies on television. 

A Sincere Love Letter to Comedy

There’s a real love for comedy in The Comedians. Apologies for criticizing another show to praise this one, but I’m Dying Up Here was reaching so hard to be profound that the love it’d try to express for comedy was a bit too much. It was a show about comedy that was sincere in its intentions, but insincere on-screen. 

The Comedians doesn’t waste too much time going about the pain of performing. It’s mostly about the joy of it. When Billy Crystal and Mel Brooks put on a little show for each other by cracking jokes, it’s a wonderful feeling. In moments such as that one, Crystal — and Gad, to his credit — make you understand their love of comedy and why they do it. Without ever acting preachy, hyperbolic, or self-serious about it, The Comedians was an authentic love letter to comedy. It’s a large part of what makes the flawed comedy endearing. 

With the FX series, Crystal probably would’ve had more to say about life and comedy, and because of that, it’s a shame The Comedians died. The FX series should’ve gotten to evolve and reach its full potential. It’s a good show that maybe could’ve been a great one, but as it stands, it’s 13 entertaining episodes of Crystal doing what he does best. Flaws and all, why pass that up? 

The Comedians is available on Amazon or to stream on Hulu.

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Jack Giroux is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in Los Angeles, he is an entertainment journalist who's previously written for Thrillist, Slash Film, Film School Rejects, and The Film Stage.

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