There’s awkward, and there’s AWKWARD.
The difference between the two, between what can be hysterically funny and what can be cringe-inducingly tedious, is best illustrated by watching the FX comedies “Louie” (10:30 p.m. Thursday) and “The Comedians” (10 p.m. Thursday).
In its fifth season, “Louie” continues to find writer-director-actor Louis C.K. playing a less successful version of himself and stumbling his way through modern life.
In Thursday’s premiere, the curmudgeonly Louie actually comes out of his shell for a bit and tries to be social by attending a potluck for the parents at his daughters’ school. For his troubles, he’s rewarded with a horrifyingly unpleasant sexual encounter that’s nearly as awful as the time he was smacked around and possibly raped by his pickup-driving, Obama-blaming blind date.
In another episode, Louie is grocery shopping with his daughters when he begins to wince. Youngest daughter Jane (Ursula Parker) immediately recognizes that look, announcing, “Daddy can’t poop in public.” Louie then rushes home, shedding groceries along the way while imploring his daughters to leave him behind with all the “I’m never gonna make it” gravitas of a war movie.
“Louie” has the enviable knack for turning the uncomfortable into the hilarious. It’s a dexterity that helps make it TV’s greatest comedy of the moment.
At one point, Louie sticks up for a stranger who’s being berated by a woman at a bus stop. That woman then turns her aggression on Louie, leaving him beaten and crumpled on a sidewalk. When his worried daughters see the bruises on his face, Louie eventually comes clean and tells them about his attacker. Concern gives way to giggles as Jane asks, “Was she pretty?”
“The Comedians,” meanwhile, squanders its promising start by devolving into yet another inside-showbiz comedy, a la HBO’s vastly superior “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and Showtime’s “Episodes,” with Billy Crystal and Josh Gad (“Book of Mormon,” Olaf from “Frozen”) playing exaggerated versions of themselves.
“In early 2015, Billy Crystal and Josh Gad filmed a sketch series for FX,” we’re told. “This documentary chronicles the making of that series.”
They’re first shown backstage at each other’s throats. Crystal blames Gad for ruining a sketch with an improvised line suggesting Crystal’s scout master character had groped him. Gad reminds Crystal that sketch had already shown the scout master devouring several of the scouts. “I’m a cannibal not a pedophile,” Crystal explains. “You have to eat. You never have to molest a child.”
From there, though, “The Comedians” is mostly just scenes of each actor annoying the other. Crystal’s original pitch, in which he’d play every part in a sketch show called “The Billy & Billy Show,” tested poorly. So fictitious FX executives force Gad on him as his co-star.
Those beefs are sandwiched around lame skits such as the prison comedy “Lewis Is the New Black” and something where chef/adventurer Anthony Bourdain keeps being served cooked testicles before vomiting.
It’s up to the viewer to decide whether those bits are supposed to be funny or examples of just how doomed the show within the show really is.
But bad comedy is bad comedy, even if it’s intentionally bad.
Contact Christopher Lawrence at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @life_onthecouch