While Showtime doesn’t have the vast library of successful shows like HBO, they have some quality programming. Dexter, Homeland and Ray Donovan are all series that have found success on the premium network. With its latest offering, Showtime has crafted a flawed, but still enjoyable series. Executive produced by Jim Carrey, I’m Dying Up Here tells the story of struggling stand up comics in 1970’s Los Angeles.
The show is fairly on the nose with its themes, in particular a few episodes. The show covers the themes of sexism, racism, drug abuse and fleeting fame. Make no mistake, there are some genuinely funny moments to be found throughout season one. The comedy is also well written. However, the show chooses a more dramatic narrative as the season goes on. Favoring a look the darker side of the stand up comedy scene is a fresh take on the subject matter and one that makes this show entertaining.
The story follows a several characters, at some points it does feel like it is too many however. There is Cassie (Ari Graynor) a female stand up who attempts to beat sexism and prove that women are funny. Standing in her way are the likes of Bill (Andrew Santino) her somewhat sexist boyfriend and even a the woman who owns the club they play at run by Goldie (Melissa Leo). Other subplots follow Eddie and Ron, (Michael Angarano and Clark Duke) two struggling Boston comics who move to L.A. under false pretenses.
To a point, there are too many characters to follow and the show doesn’t always balance them deftly. I’m Dying Up Here for the seasons first half, struggles to find a foothold and meanders quite a bit. That lack of a singular focus could work if the side plots were at least interesting. Some of them are. RJ Cyler plays Adam, a young black comic who seemingly has the most talent of any of the comics that play at Goldies, has a wonderful story arc. It is an arc that continues to build into the seasons finale where we find out more about Adam and his story.
I’m Dying Up Here could stand to benefit from choosing a few characters and just leave some of the lesser ones in the background. Al Madrigal turns in a great performance as Edgar, but his character isn’t as enthralling as the others, yet he is given equal screen time.
The show certainly has some wonderful period detail and gives the show a sense of time and place. It highlights some of the pop culture norms of the decade including the comedians desire to get on The Tonight Show to impress Johnny Carson.
The shows attempts to mirror current societal issues into the dark world of these stand-ups and we can see the connection. But, I’m Dying Up Here uses its thematic material as a hammer in which to beat its audience with. Too often, the shows themes are forced upon the viewer favoring bluntness over subtlety.
I’m Dying Up Here asks some interesting questions and has some untapped potential. The seasons finale leaves the door open for more to explore in this arena. Yet, it ends well enough that it could stand on its own. Some of the characters are memorable while others just seem to exist in the world of the show. It does feature some excellent performances particularly from RJ Cyler, Ari Graynor and Michael Angarano.
Best Episode: Episode 10, “Creative Indifferences”
Worst Episode: Episode 4, “Sugar and Spice”
Season Score: 6.5/10
Conclusion: While it does have some great dramatic moments, authentic period detail and often wonderful acting, I’m Dying Up Here leaves some potential on the table with its blurry focus and on the nose themes.