Crystal and Gad do fine, acceptable work as their fictional versions, and both appear to enjoy stepping out of themselves for a bit. The problem is that the script isn’t exactly inventive or breaking the mold. The passive-aggressiveness, the unspoken competition between the two, the mockumentary format that finds our characters shrugging toward the camera in lieu of delivering a punchline, the sketches punctuating episodes (I’m not quite show if the Bily & Josh show is supposed to be terrible or if the sketches are supposed to be funny?), the self-aware take on the lack of diversity within the program (Billy & Josh has one Asian writer who is “off white at best”) — these are all things that we’ve seen before.
There is also an over-reliance on the generational divide — Billy and Josh’s fans don’t necessarily overlap, as evidenced by a late series birthday episode in which Billy bombs in front of a young crowd — and the predictable humor (Billy and Josh get too stoned and wander around a grocery store).
It is worth noting that, as the series goes on, The Comedians does smooth out some of its rough edges — I did enjoy the sillier jokes, such as the occasional reference to Gad’s failed 1600 Penn sitcom (the multiple shots of that awful The Strain advertisement, however, were as horrible as when the posters first appeared). But while the show at least becomes consistently watchable, perhaps something of a comfort food program for those who still have fuzzy feelings toward Billy Crystal, it never quite gets good, especially not when stacked against its peers on FX/X (pairing The Comedians with the nearly sublime Louie is a cruel move.) I’m wondering how I would feel if I were watching it week-to-week, rather than powering through; it often felt like I was forcing myself to enjoy it to justify why I binged nine disappointing episodes. There are no doubts that The Comedians will find its audience, just as most FX programs tend to do, but I’m fine with sitting out the rest of the series.