Levitt’s Take On The Premiere Of “The Connors”

conners

I was never the hugest fan of the Roseanne show.  Not a particular devotee of  family style-sitcoms,  I didn’t warm to Roseanne Barr’s brand of prickly matriarch snark.  However, I did respect the show’s writing and the easy, playful rapport she enjoyed with her TV husband, John Goodman.

When it came back this year, I watched mainly for its controversial nature and buzz but then found the characters to be too generally too old-in-the-tooth to be funny/likable in their old roles.  John Goodman seemed like he had been through triple bi-pass surgery, Laurie Metcalf seemed  in quick need of fluids, and only Roseanne Barr’s bodily systems seemed to functioning adequately by comparison.

when I first heard the story of Roseanne Barr’s so called racist tweet. The whole thing seemed just one big over-reaction. What’s that you say, Someone being mean on Twitter?!!!, stop the madness!  People say crass things on the internet all the time.  Nowadays, that almost seems its main reason for being. Facebook too, once a place just to post vacation or kid pics now, post-election has  morphed into a place to trumpet daily hatred of the current administration (you think Trump’s  a dick, I think we got it)… and of course Trump’s un-relenting daily twitter tirades.  So, I just could not fathom why Roseanne Barr was the scapegoat who got fired over one ill-advised tweet. To me, it seemed inseparable from everything else you see on Twitter. I still feel the whole thing could have blown over if they did some self-mocking storyline on Roseanne where she Tweeted something accidentally racist and got instant flack/ heat from everyone she knew.  Valerie Jarrett could have even guest starred as herself and earned herself some extra “cool points”.  Alas,  I guess the political climate is too raw for that now.

When the show’s pseudo-reboot, “The Conners” premiered yesterday, I was not sure what to think.  I really didn’t expect comedy greatness.  The other characters are too reactive to be good protagonists. Love her or hate her, Roseanne was always a bundle of feisty comic wit.  Sarah Gilbert is too laid-back and taciturn to be the comedic fulcrum of the show.

I didn’t really understand why the show had to kill off Roseanne’s character as punishment.  She tweeted something offensive, she didn’t kill anyone.  Also an Opioid overdose seemed unnecessarily awful and out-of-character.  It would have been  better if she never really died or if  only her twitter account was put out of its misery. But,  the show cheerlessly chugged on without her. Goodman, without Roseanne to bounce-off, appeared lost and pathetic and the other characters, mostly forgettable anyway, seemed like mere place-holders to what the show once was. In general,  The entire cast had a shell-shocked, sleepy vibe… like they had just awoken from an anesthetic after getting a colonoscopy.  The spirit of “R” hung heavy on the whole episode and I found myself feeling pissed that she wasn’t there.

Another thing which cast a pall over the premiere was that I know that Roseanne (often inseparable from her TV Character) didn’t really die but was forced off the show kicking and screaming in a very public way. Far from dead,  Roseanne Barr is still very much alive and vocal on radio, tv (Rabbi Shmuley, anyone?) .  At various times during the show, I could have sworn I could hear her spirit chime in and ominously intone, “for shame!”

I’m not blaming the cast for continuing on without Roseanne. They are entitled to work and make money  but  if often seemed like they were hopelessly clinging to boat that’s been torpedoed and quickly taking on water. I’m sure the viewing audience was also in denial about the prospect of Roseanne’s passing.  I sincerely doubt anyone was really tuning into “The Conners”  to hear the latest “Darlene News”, see Dan sadly polish his old motorcycle, or deeply cared if Becky ever really got it together.

There was something so gutless about the Network’s decision to fire Roseanne about an unpopular, possibly racist tweet. Roseanne always did ridiculous, questionable things.    She butchered the Star Spangled banner and married Tom Arnold!  Its not like TV is a bastion of high values or elitist entertainment anyway.  In the 1970s we had racist Archie Bunker, in the 80s we had the morally challenged, Morton Downey and Jerry Springer. Ultimately, with such douchebag behavior exhibited on their actual shows, I never thought TV Networks put any stock their stars did in their off-hours that much as long as they brought in the ratings.  There’s even a show currently on the air  called “Hillybilly Handfishing” for christ sakes … obviously TV doesn’t care about decorum or taste. There’s simply an audience out there for for people who adore watching un-refined people fish with their hands, so lets give it to them!.

I do condemn Roseanne for publicly tweeting her views. As a rule, My eyes glaze over every time any celebrity get political. Without the petty cares of the everyday person,  they often come across as either insincere, daffy or self- serving when they wax political. Plus, I already give people like Jim Parson enough of my time watching The Big Bang Theory.  Why do I also have to listen to what he thinks about tariffs for China?!

I’ll continue to tune into the show for a few more episodes . Whether there’s enough of a show there once the fog of Roseanne has lifted is anyone’s guess. But, I guess its truly too late to hope the rest of the cast suddenly unleash a spate of racists tweets, in solidarity for Roseanne, and get fired from execs from ABC…only to be scooped up by a new Roseanne Reboot on the Fox Network.

 

 

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Levitt’s Early Take on the 2018 Fall TV – I watch All The Shows So You Don’t Have To

God Friended me– (B) ( I guess “God Poked me” sounded too sexual) 

god

“Simplistic skepticism super-imposed with do gooder-shenanigans.” Its about an Atheistic podcaster that gets a Facebook friend from a “God  account” and  is. “Divinely led”to interact with random people in need.   My main quibble about this show is that the Protagonists disposition is frankly too sunny to be a credible skeptical atheistic podcaster.  He seems more like a friendly barista or a guy peddles Gelato on Spring Street. Amiable Miles (played by Brandon Michael Hall) seems like he coasts smoothly over life’s peaks and valleys.  The “People in peril” situations which just seem to convenient drop in Miles lap are never really explained.  Why is Miles chosen to help these people and why are these people singled out for redemption?  Who knows? Makes you wonder why Miles has all this free time on his hands to help these people out. Guess he has real flexible work schedule! Still the casting in this show is so good, it makes up for the relentlessly saccharine and do-gooder plotlines.  Miles is aided by his insecure techie friend, Rakesh (Suraj Sharma) (*every new show seems to have an insecure tech person, Maybe sign these guys up for an assertiveness training course )   Miles other friend/love interest is played by the likable Violett Beane who also apparently enjoys a very lenient work schedule when it comes to Good Samaritan Extracurriculars. I’m giving this a B mainly for the casting and potential.

The Neighborhood(c) (guess the deleted working title of this show was, “There Goes The Neighborhood”)

neighborhood

 The show is basically an updated, reworking of the “The Jeffersons” where a nerdy white guy moves next to a gruff black guy in an all-black neighborhood. The Jeffersons, though, as helmed by Norman Lear was a sharper written more character driven vehicle.  The Neighborhood, though, leans on easy riffs on black/white superficial differences White Meat Chicken, white/black chess pieces rather than actual plotlines . A few clever one-liners and presence of Cedric the Entertainer elevate it just above average.

Single Parents (C+) (Sounds like a Personal Ad you may want to skip Over

parents

Premise: a support group of mismatched single parents who  Fill in, babysit, offer advice, and act as sounding boards  to help each other navigate the waters of single parent-dom. I usually hate sit-coms centered around kids ( cue the crying and poop jokes!!) .  Luckily, the kids on this show are mainly window dressing and, the ones which are featured are of a less whiny, poopy disposition. Clever/unique situations and at the offbeat, inspired casting of Brad Garret as a gruff dad to young girls elevate the semi-precious material to downright tolerable status.  If I were casting the show, I would just fire the other cast members have Brad Garett father a brood of kids and live in a trailer.  Sounds like comedic gold to me.

Manifest- Manifestly Un-interesting (C-)

 manifest

(C-)- a semi-intriguing premise weighted down by humorless, narrow myopic plotlines and an earnest but criminally un-charismatic cast.  The show’s about a commercial airplane (flight 828) which disappears from radar and then five years later suddenly lands safely at an airport.  After watching the pilot of this show, my first reaction  was, who cares that these people were gone for 5 years .  I can easily say these are 170 of the most forgettable people to ever board an airplane. Guess their personalities never made it past customs.  Actors Melissa Roxburgh and Josh Dallas head up this unremarkable ensemble and I’ve forgotten them already.  In Truth, I couldn’t care less about the show’s central  mystery… what person or alien presence abducted these people from their lives for so long and why.? But if I ever do meet the person/presence responsible., I will offer them a very hearty thank you and suggest a speedy return trip for all aboard.

Happy Together- The Turtles  Called And Want Their Song Back (C-)

together

Premise: disillusioned pop-star moves in with his accountant and wife. If I had a dime for each time that happened!  The show is positioned as sort of a generation-gap comedy.  But the difference in ages is not significant and the odd-couple premise (pop star/boring 30 somethings) is fangless because the pop singer lacks the requisite abandon and indulgences his contemporaries (drugs, getting into trouble, womanizing).  and the couple he lives with, though square, are too agreeable to give any bite to typical roommate friction.  Due to the squeaky clean characters and escapist premise.I think this show would work out better on The Disney Channel.  That may be its future destiny if it gets cancelled.

New Amsterdam- Not Your Father’s HMO

amsterdam

Yes, just when you thought it was safe to turn the channel…yep, another show set in a hospital.  This medical drama is distinguished from others in the genre mainly in that the hospital’s medical director spends the whole day walking around asking, “Can I help” to any random patient he encounters walking down the hallway. But, I’m not sure this helpful hands-on philosophy works with a hospital since most avg. hospital patients, since they have all kinds of tubes in them, feel vulnerable and, when approached , tend to shrink into a self-protective shell  Also, you can just see this  director awkwardly showing up at some inopportune moment during a delivery murmuring, “Can I help” or peeking over a sensitive discussion about a girl’s first period, offering his own ham-fisted take on a girl’s first monthly visitor.

 

Kill The Casting Agent! Levitt Explores Why T.V. Shows Fail

 

tv

The recent axing of several new TV Shows recently has inspired me to try to make sense of the carnage. clearly many shows are obiviously shelved due to poor time slots, inane premises, or just good old fashioned bad writing. However, more often than not, I feel that bad casting is at the core of viewers deciding to switch channels.

Alex Inc-  Braff In Charge????

ZACH BRAFF

Ordinarily popular Zach Braff should should never ettempt to play anyone who is in charge of anything. On screen, the last thing the congenial Braff  exudes is a sense of decisiveness or authority.  In any conceivable workplace,  it seems un-imaginable to picture Braff managing anything more nuanced or pliable than a sock display.  Furthermore, with his feather-weight, nebbishy personality,  it was ridiculous that he would be cast as the boss of noted tough-guy actor, Michael Imperioli, (previously “Nicholas” from the Sopranos) . To most half-awake viewers, Braff and and Imperioli thrown together in an office can only have one conceivable final outcome… after a few tense seconds, Braff finding himself on the receiving-end of a violent pistol whipping.

Just Say “No” To Imaginary Cast Members:

imaginary

Clearly TV Viewers don’t cotton to invisible characters that only the lead can see.  With the cancellation of a whopping four shows with imaginary characters this season: “Kevin probably saves saves the world” ,”Imaginary Mary” with Jenna Elfman,  and Jane Lynch’s “Angel From Hell”.  These characters often prove obnoxiously devilish, cutesy or overly sanctimonious, in the final analysis, there must be some logical reason nobody else can see them. “too annoying for this world” gets my vote.To me, the appeal of imaginary friends, peaked with “Harvey The Rabbit”

9JKL-I Think I got your Role By Mistake

jkl

The casting agent for the show 9JKL should be sued. On its face, the decision to cast Mark Feuerstein and Dave Walton as brothers makes no sense.  Carlton is a foot taller than Feuerstein and other than being Caucasian, both men share little of the same physical features .In addition, the decision to cast irresponsible/smarmy looking actor, Dave Walton, as a married doctor and boy-scout appearing, Mark Feuerstein, as divorced actor seems insane.  Obviously, the actors two should have swapped roles because they seem ideally suited to each other’s parts.  Perhaps the cast list had mixed up their roles or a stage hand hand given them the wrong sides and they just stayed with it. Whatever the reasons,  I have not seen such a head-scratching casting decision since  Henry Winkler “The Fonz” was hired as the spokesman for “OneReverse” a reverse mortgage company.

“Kevin Can Wait”- Take My Wife…Please.. or “Quietly Kill, Then Replace”

splitscreen

Erinn Hayes,  who was cast as the wife on “Kevin Can Wait” didn’t work.  She wasn’t horrible but Hayes’ regular, classy laid-back style couldn’t keep pace with Kevin James’  frequently physical, larger-than-life zany comic energy. So, In a quick Knee-jerk response, the show  quickly decided to end her character’s arc by killing her off. The death was accomplished with all the swiftness and discretion of a mob hit. Nobody saw it coming and the cast barely spoke about it. Quickly, the show teamed Kevin James with his partner from “King Of Queens”,  Leah Remini and  rekindle the old “familiarity breeds contempt” relationship they shared as husband and wife . Now, though, they were just co-workers.  The same contemptuous bickering that is so relatable in an average marriage just doesn’t wash in the workplace.  That’s why companies force you to go through harassment prevention training and take a test!

Please Report to Tim Meadows’ Office

meadows

*Sometimes casting choices out of left field just work . During his SNL heydey, I would never have suspected that Tim Meadows had any kind of a knack for playing school principals.  But every time he appears as a principal in “, “The Goldbergs” “Teachers” etc. amazingly he shines. Some actors , it seems, are destined to play important roles (King Lear or Winston Churchill), Tim Meadows was born to make teenagers tuck in their pants and spit out their gum.

Actors Who Are Always Cast In The Same Roles (part 2)

Matthew Mcconaughey

horndog

He Aint Nothin’ But A Horn-dog

Whatever he’s playing, an attorney, stock trader, or high school drop out, one thing is for sure, Matthew Mcconaughey is playing a character who is horny.  He takes roles of people who never do anything by halves and are always “up” for a new sexual conquest.  So, you will never see Mcconaughey playing a deprived or sexually repressed role like a priest or an avid stamp collector.  It could be Matt’s wolfish/evil smile, his tan skin, spaced-out acting style…or maybe he used to be a  fat, dateless teenager and is using his screen career to overcompensate… I don’t know.  but whatever the reasons, one thing is clear…if you’re a respectable woman and you see this Mcconaughey sidle up to you at a party, I’m not sure if you would want to go feeding him any oysters.

Joan Cusack

sister

She Aint Heavy, She’s My Sister

Its a good bet that if Joan Cusack is in a film, she’s related to one of the leads…Sister, cousin, aunt. Perhaps its her quirky, non-sexually threatening looks that always guide casting agents to pick her as supporting sibling or maybe its the fact that she has appeared in 10 films with her actor brother, John Cusack (usually playing his sister). Although determined looking and usually put-together, Cusack usually gives off the reluctant whiff of resignation/caution and that she lets the film’s protagonist do all the heavy lifting.  It is my impression that if Cusack was to play a role whose character would throw sisterly caution to the wind and take some risks ( Jump into a burning building to save a cat or Eat NY Street-meat) this (twice-nominated actress) would actually win an Oscar.

Martha Plimpton

plimpton

It Rhymes With Witch

Physically, Martha Plimpton looks like someone who just keyed your car. The sarcastic and satisfied smirk on your face lets you know that she either just screwed you (in a non sexual way), is in the process of screwing you, or will someday take you out on the back stoop and deeply screw you.  I say screw you (non-sexually) because Plimpton’s characters would never want to leave open the possibility of a mutually satisfying screwing. Her characters just enjoy being  evil.  So, you’ll never catch Plimpton donating coats to the homeless or working the phones at the “Make A Wish Foundation”.  Plimpton gets plenty of work as an evil foil.  Maybe casting agents put her in a lot of films/tv because they genuinely fear the prospect of  her nasty retribution.  Well, All I can say is, if you find yourself cast as one of Martha Plimpton’s Co-Stars, make sure all your life- insurance payments are up to date.

Loretta Devine

devine

I’ll Take My Eggs With A Side Of Sassy

You will never catch Loretta Devine playing a librarian.  She wants to be loud and noticed. asserting herself in her cheeky, blustery way Devine tends to play roles which are constantly demanding their rights whether or not the situation warrants (such as school administrators, social workers, or buttinsky aunts). Not content to just get her way. Devine’s characters always seem to always want her co-stars to admit and even loudly proclaim that she was right.  Also physically lumbering, and  I would never want to see Devineplaying a part where she would be in charge of anything delicate. Museum curator-( then, adios one-of-a-kind King Tut Skull!) or hospital phlebotomist ( then, “whoopsie, sir, sorry about that massive scar on your arm”.)

If you didn’t catch part 1 of my “Actors Who Are Always Cast In The Same Roles” article, just click this link: https://wp.me/p6Hm24-1J

Levitt Reviews Cobra Kai (**1/2)

 

kai

In a free two episode promotion I was able to catch YouTube Red’s new web-series “Cobra Kai”  online.  Being a big fan of the original Karate Kid film, I was curious to see how good/bad-cheesy The New web-series would be.

Early on in Cobra Kai,  a wary Daniel Laruso turns to his original rival, Johnny Lawrence,  and cautions “Hey, lets not rehash the past”.  Well If you are a Karate Kid fan who  wants to relive the spirit of the original film, you may enjoy Cobra Kai’s fateful, nostalgic journey.

Cobra Kai reunites Ralph Macchio (Daniel Laruso) and William Zabka (Johnny Lawrence)  34 years after the original Film.  “Danielson” now middle-aged is a smug, self satisfied and successful car dealership chain owner and Johnny Lawrence is a struggling Home repairman.

In a series of ridiculous coincidental meetings, ( Johnny has his car wrecked, by Daniel’s kids, and it is conveniently towed to Daniel’s car dealership home office) predictably, after the duo meet in person old tensions bubble up and resurface. Have you ever known old tensions in these action films/ shows to cool over time?

battle

One of the major elements which made the original Karate Kid film successful was that the title character was a fresh, down-and-out underdog who stands up against his school bully and, against the odds, wins the “All Valley Under 18 Karate Championships.  Now, though, Danielson underwhelms as a boring , domesticated over-dog. His main problem, other than too much disposable income, seems to be rescuing a drawer-full of his swim-trunks from the teenage genitals of a group of neighborhood kids who evidently never thought of the concept of “bringing their own” to a neighborhood pool party. Its hard to work up any sympathy for these “rich people problems”.  And the fact that Mr Miyagi’s star protege has matured into a successful car ship dealer? wow! Not that I expected Daniel Laruso to grow up to do something great…like form a new school of philosophy or make significant breakthroughs in the field of stem cell research…but having this promising kid grow up to be something as prosaic as a car dealer?

The deeper more sympathetic character in Cobra Kai, at least on paper, is “Johnny Lawrence”, he’s been fired, living in a cheap part of reseda, forced to eat stale pizza slices at a strip mall convenience store and taunted by commercials for Laruso’s Auto’s car dealerships . Ordinarily, his character should be more humble and likable. However, the creators of the show seem to want to keep Johnny both down and a dick. Once a dick always a dick I guess…at least in the psychologically stunted world of Cobra Kai. Johnny also seems trapped in high-school; blasting 90’s heavy meal music from his vintage sports car, mooning over his old fight trophies… I’m surprised he still doesn’t sleep with a picture of Elizabeth shue (ali) from the first Karate Kid under his pillow.

Strangely, after a tense initial meeting with Daniel, Johnny, in a moment of epiphany, suddenly decides to get revenge on his old nemesis by opening his own Karate School. I was confused by this plot-point.  Someone needs to explain to me how how opening a new karate Dojo punishes a guy who owns a successful car dealership. To my untrained eye they seem completely different consumer groups.

Anyhow, a rivalry between two karate obsessed teenagers seems acceptable.  As middle aged men, though, Daniel and Johnny “throwing down” just seem more like weekend warriors who picked karate over a good game of paintball. I think Both characters would be more credible waging battle over their colonoscopy results than by engage in a rousing karate fight.

Besides the two leads, I am not a big fan of the casting of Cobra Kai. Daniel’s wife is played by actress known for playing pampered/bossy roles such as “Claudia” on Mom Courtney Henggeler, and Daniel’s daughters read as generic teenagers who lack the pluck of the original movies. Also, for some inexplicable reason, the producers thought it was a good idea to cast Ed Asner as Johnny’s step dad. I guess they just lumped them both into the “Grumbly actor category” without taking Ed Asner’s distinguished emmy winning career into consideration.

Don’t get me wrong, Cobra Kai is more enjoyable vehicle than the movie sequels to the karate kid simply because it does not try and stray too far from its original template and it locks in the nostalgia factor by landing Macchio and Zabka to play their original roles. Karate Kid 2 was more of a okinawa based love story, karate Kid 3 was just a tired re-tread with a homicidal villian, Karate Kid 4 was a disaster set in a peaceful monastery and the remake with Jaden Smith, although spirited, seemed like a pale, color by numbers re-creation of the original which lacked the chemistry of Macchio and Morita.

Cobra Kai, although passable, is in desperate bad need of a Miyagi’s sage character to add gravitas and a moral compass to this otherwise testosterone-filled feud. Ralph Macchio, although a nice and amiable screen presence, never seems to be able to convey characters with any kind of intellectual depth. In short, he does not read like he’s very bright on the screen. so, to me, it is more effective when Macchio has a sensei who can provide him with a strategy and game-plan. Otherwise, he’s just some likable doofus who knows some fancy karate moves.

In the end result, although I enjoyed seeing Macchio and Zabka mix it up a little, I don’t think I was tempted enough to plunk down the $10 a month fee to invest in a month subscription to YouTube Red.  To me, that would just be rehashing the past.

Levitt Revisits HBO’s Crashing (Season 2) (A-)

crashing

When I first reviewed Crashing, I admired the show for its intimate nutty look at the day to day of the average struggling comedian but  found the show’s central figure, Peter Holmes too bland and upright in a NYC Comedy Scene often plagued with sketchy characters, drunks, and self-destructive narcissists. But this season they seemed to have taken my advice. They mellowed Pete’s character a little.  Got him laid.  lightened him up and made him more of an active agent in his own life.

Pete’s still the most square, awkward person in any room. His stand-up is self-deprecating and genuine.  since club comics on these types of shows are often depicted as disgruntled cast-offs who resent and disdain their audiences,  I find it refreshing, for once, to see a comedian who doesn’t  want to secretly murder his audience. Pete’s not smarting from some career set-back or some personal pain.  He’s not particularly angry at anything.  Honestly, he seems to just want to make people laugh. To belong.

Crashing is also experimenting with is own form.  One particularly effecting episode, “The Athiest” has Pete talking religion and philosophy with guest star, Magician Penn Jillette.  in a casual, five minute conversation Jillette has Pete questioning his own faith in Christianity and willing to, however briefly, let his hair down and test his boundaries. Wow, Who knew Penn Gillette could get so deep? Sure,  Raymond Teller… Now, Teller is a an endless fountain of philosophy… but Jillette?!!!

pete and penn

One of the shows best strengths is its ability to realistically show how friendships between comedians are forged on the road.  Pete’s younger, “innocent brother” type seems to be catnip for comedians like Artie Lange or Bill Burr who quickly take Pete under their wing and try to snap Pete out of his earnest naivete.  This season also has Pete finally acquire a normal romantic/friendship with a female comedian, Ally who is winningly played by Comedian Jamie Lee. She’s a  struggling comic trying to piece together enough good footage a demo reel. Pete and Jamie’s relationship is as giggly and cringingly real and awkward as any new relationship. I hope they stay together for a while.  So far their relationship seems the warmest and un-pretentious on television.

duo

Less successful, however, is the show’s reliance on the stereotype of the nasty comedy club owner.  Inevitably, these people are always portrayed as profit-motivated dicks. Once in a while, it might be okay for a club owner to be nice and actually try to encourage and mentor talent.  I don’t think they would be breaking any Union Rules.

Another small weakness of the show is the actual comedy sets. It seems that whenever I see an autobiographical movie about a stand up,  it seems like the writers always half-ass the actual bits.  Pete’s forced bits about Roach Spray or how he physically resembles a dorky guy at a barbecue don’t seem the kind of stuff to set the comedy world on fire.  Its like the comedians don’t want to part with any of the real gems of their acts for fear that, if “Crashing” gets cancelled or their characters get the boot, they won’t have anything left when they go back out on the road.

Ultimately, I’m happy I stuck with Crashing. Now, I look forward to watching it every week and having it as my stable Sunday Gig.  If you haven’t checked it out yet, give it a shot.  Sundays, 10:30 HBO.

Here’s my original, first review of “Crashing” :    https://wp.me/p6Hm24-T0

 

 

 

standup

 

 

 

Levitt’s Review Of “I’m Dying Up Here” (A-) (Showtime, Sunday, 10-11 PM E.)

dying

When I began watching Showtimes, “I’m dying Up Here” I thought the tone of a show about comedians too despairing and similar  to the Tom Hanks/Sally Field film, “Punchline”. In Punchline, the impulse to do stand-up seemed more like a curse than a freedom.  The comedians were sufferers; unable to lead a normal life because they were addicted to the rush of performing. Too many times in these kinds of true-to life shows about comedians are depicted  comedians as only “on” when hit the stage and then, post-performance; collapsing in some sort of destructive/drunken cocoon in the corner.

The success of “I’m Dying Up Here”, though is that it successfully shows the comedians have three dimensional lives on and offstage. When not performing, There are numerous exchanges where each comic is just standing around shooting the shit and being normal knuckle-heads.  Other shows about comics also fall lazily into familiar templates; comedian as detached funny commentator (Gaffigan) or being a bottom-rung comedic pee-on (“Crashing”).  “Dying”, instead, presents a solid close-knit band of “working” comedians.  There are no break-out performers (save for the occasional visiting celeb or A-Lister).  By in large, each comedian is a-work-in-progress, honing their craft, and- aside from the inevitable jealousies- generally supportive of each-others success.

The show is full of talented real-life comedians and actors.  A stand out in the cast for me is the club owner, Goldie Herschlag  (Melissa Leo) who resists the greedy/grumbly stereotype and, though thick-skinned maintains a good. mature working relationship with her comics and a sporting interest in their careers. As the series progresses, it will be good to see more of her personal life take center stage…she might even get the itch to pick up the mic.

goldie

I also like the fire-cracker energy of Adam Proteau ( R.J. Cyler)  He is not as guarded as his contemporaries and has more raw vital presence on the stage and is interesting to watch and set him apart from the other comics.rj

 

Finally, Cassie Feder (Ari Graynor) shines as the show’s only female comedian.  The show’s writers do not make her cast as a typical salty/sassy Joan Rivers or Bette Midler over-sexed clone.  In fact, she disdains stock material in favor of a richer, more personal and confessional brand of humor that should yield rich dividends later on.

carlene.jpg

So far, in my review of “Dying”, I haven’t mentioned that the show is set in the 70s and that is, in large part, because I really don’t find the time frame to be that relevant to the show’s atmosphere.  The show is cast in the 70s because that’s when stand-up was king.  If people wanted to see comedy, they had to leave their homes to see the likes of Pryor or Carlin since there was no cable/internet outlets.  I think a strength of the show is that it doesn’t beat you over the head with 70s references or slang that takes you of the action. The 70’s setting is just atmosphere, man!

One of the show’s few negatives for me is the heavy-handed backstories.  The writers of “Dying” can’t seem to resist the temptation to make each comic the product of a bad home life.  Every comedian’s dad apparently drank too much and beat them up. Yipes, I wouldn’t want to be stuck in the audience at Caroline’s on Father’s Day ! Thankfully, though, the back-stories take a back-seat to the rich and realistic stand-up and the tight-knit relationships of the comedians.

Now that I’ve given this show a pretty great review, I thought I would temper my analysis with a little reality.

Although the writing and acting are first-rate, Here is why I feel the show might get cancelled.

cancelled

 

 

Nobody On “Dying” is a Zombie, vampire, or otherwise living-challenged Individual

By comedian standards these guys are relatively normal earth-bound dudes.  nobody is drug-addicted (at least not violently so, sticking up a 7/11 at 2 in the morning to get enough money for “blow”).

The Lead actress is not a sex-pot-  Though attractive and talented, the lead actress is more interested in her career, than trying out out experimental, cinematically pleasing sex positions.

Nobody gets wacked every week–  Shows like Sopranos, True Blood, and Boardwalk Empire tended to like to sacrifice a different character every week to keep everyone interested and guessing.  Stand-up comedy,  although competitive,  is not exactly a blood sport.

Nobody is mentioning Trump or politics- Trump and political commentary are hogging the airwaves this summer with all the Russian/collusion shenanigans.  To me, my interest in Russia really peaked with Rocky 4.  But, This show with its occasional references to news or pop culture, (Billie Jean King V Bobby Riggs anyone?) seems miles away from being topical.