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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Masters Of Sex- “You’ve Been Dan Logan’ed”

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Open A window- I’ve been a fan of masters of sex from the first season. The acting and dialogue is first rate and it has the simmering love story for the two central characters that is seemingly necessary for these kinds of dramas (ie “The Affair”).

However, now in its third season the show has taken a dip for the worse and the reason is the godawful stench of Perfume/scents mogul, Dan Logan played by The Good Wife’s Josh Charles.

Something smells fishy- On The Good Wife, Josh Charles played a pragmatic, cerebral quick on his toes, lawyer, “Will Gardener”. His innate unruffled, taciturn demeanor played well to the thoughtful and strategizing lawyer he played on the show. However, on “Masters” his strengths as an actor seem wasted on a character that is meant to be more of a suave worldly charmer.  It seems hard to imagine that this undemonstrative guy could inspire Virginia Johnson to play hooky and go to vegas or that he could unlock the secret scent of sex any more than he could unlock the drawer to his own medicine cabinet. Also, what the hell is a perfume mogul anyway?! Does this career even exist and, if so, why cast it with an actor with such a pronounced nose (Josh Charles)? isn’t this casting choice a bit too “on the nose”? and, even if we accept the conceit of the show, that perfume moguls do exist and yes they often have big shnozzes, why would these people conduct their own research? Even back in 1967, wouldn’t these people be able to hire their own assistants to do all the boring lab work?

I guess its too easy to say the addition of Josh Charles alone has “stunk up” the set of Masters Of Sex.  The writers deprived Charles of much of a backstory and are making him far too much of a smitten, reactive agent on the show to be a truly compelling character.  Also, part of what makes Masters Of Sex work is the fiery dynamic of Sheen and Caplan. They’re both volatile with quick shifts into anger or hurt.  Charles “go to” reaction as an actor is to be on his guard and slow to show how he really feels.

So one wonders why Charles, aside from the weekly grind of being on a network show like The Good Wife, opted to transition into a less interesting character on a more niche show like Masters?  Maybe the newly married Charles just wanted to do a few sex scenes with Lizzy Caplan to relieve some of his marital monotony.