The Twilight Zone: The Comedian
April 3, 2019 7:17 AM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

Taking advice from a famous comedian, a stand-up comic makes fun of his own life - with unexpected results.

"You have one thing. One natural resource. You are a country with one export. And you are the export. I'll tell you a secret. Put yourself out there and you will get laughs. You will be successful. Are you sure that's what you want?"
"Yes."
" Now you have to be sure to be sure. 'Cause once you put it out there the audience will take it in. They will connect. And once they connect to it it's theirs. And once it's theirs that shit is gone forever."

The Twilight Zone premiere makes my stand-up comedy nightmares too real -- Commentary: Jordan Peele's reboot starts with a comedy of terrors starring Kumail Nanjiani, and for a working comic like me, it's dead-on. (Bonnie Burton for CNet)

"The Comedian" Is Vintage Twilight Zone, But Not in the Way You'd Want (Jim Vorel for Paste Magazine)
More so than series opener “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet,” the second episode of Jordan Peele’s Twilight Zone reboot feels like a premise that could easily have existed in the show’s original run.

Unfortunately, this is not a good thing.

“The Comedian,” directed by Owen Harris—who, oddly enough, is responsible for the best episode of Black Mirror, “San Junipero”—is an unexpected reminder of what The Twilight Zone is like, and what it has always been like, when it’s not firing on all cylinders. It’s an overlong 54 minutes of streaming TV, grasping for gravitas while not possessing enough substance to fill half of its running time.
There's a reason David Copperfield is name-dropped in this episode -- it was his payment to let the show borrow the dummy from "The Dummy" (Wikipedia), the 33rd episode from the 3rd season of the original run of this show.

Full episode on YouTube from CBS All Access (at least for now)
posted by filthy light thief (21 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
MetaFilter post on this reboot. This is "airing" (er, streaming) on CBS's new (pay)walled garden, CBS All Access, but they've posted this episode on YouTube as a sampler of the 10 episode season.

Also, this is a new episode, not a remake, but I feel like some of the premise is from a prior short story and/or episode, where there's a comedian who bombs and wants people to laugh at him, and his wish is granted, only to have people laugh at everything he says, but I didn't find a match in a quick skim of prior Twilight Zone episode recaps, or any other internet search.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:20 AM on April 3, 2019


Filthy Light Thief, you might be thinking of the episode from the 1985 revival "Take My Life...Please!"
posted by Big Chief Little Pants at 8:47 AM on April 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm loving these so far. Fangirl, not sorry, I'll party like it's 1959 if I want to.

Stylish, full of easter eggs, Peele as Narrator, what's not to like? Okay, you'll probably see the end before it gets there, but there's more to the episodes than the last five minutes, so enjoy the ride.
posted by sageleaf at 9:18 AM on April 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


Great episode. Kumail Nanjiani does a great job when he realizes he's decided to name a person, when he is shocked that something went sideways, and when he decided it was his last show. I keep being more impressed with his acting in everything he does.

The thing that worked so well for me about classic Twilight Zone is that it's basically black box theater with very simple sets where they don't usually have to show the magic happening. I'm really glad they went with that style rather than showing people disappear or bus stops be magically un-smashed while we watched.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 11:51 AM on April 3, 2019 [6 favorites]


full of easter eggs

That's an impressive list, and an interesting tip:
The new series wastes no time with the homage in the very first frame of the first episode “The Comedian.” The camera starts on the back wall of a comedy club that features a mural painted to look like an extension of the room with formally dressed patrons sitting in an auditorium. Some of the most grotesque faces in the audience may look familiar.

[Images: "Twilight Zone" mural, "The Masks" and "Eye of the Beholder"]

“That was Michael Wylie, our production designer. Michael had the idea and we all really liked the idea,” said executive producer Simon Kinberg. “There’s a lot of secrets that are buried in the show that get threaded together over the span of the season. That’s one thread that begins something larger.”
Emphasis mine -- this makes me more intrigued with this season.

Also, I want a Thing on the Wing doll, but I'm guessing that's a custom build, so I'll have to make my own ;)
posted by filthy light thief at 12:21 PM on April 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


filthy light thief, I remember a "Limits of the Imagination" sketch with that concept from SNL back in the day, but I can't find a video.
posted by MrBadExample at 5:29 PM on April 3, 2019


Also, this is a new episode, not a remake, but I feel like some of the premise is from a prior short story and/or episode, where there's a comedian who bombs and wants people to laugh at him, and his wish is granted, only to have people laugh at everything he says, but I didn't find a match in a quick skim of prior Twilight Zone episode recaps, or any other internet search.
There was a Night Gallery episode directed by Steven Spielberg called "Make Me Laugh" that might be it.
posted by curse at 5:39 PM on April 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


Google says this is playing on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and more. Is that a first?
posted by rhizome at 9:22 PM on April 3, 2019


rhizome, the original Twilight Zone (or at least some seasons of it) are available on those platforms, but this reboot is only currently available on CBS' own streaming service "CBS All Access".
posted by Roommate at 3:55 AM on April 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


I just wanted to echo how good Nanjiani was in this. I hadn't seen him in a dramatic thing before, just comedy from the Harmon/Corddry galaxies. Wow, he is a really good actor.

This is a nice-looking show too. Looks expensive and beautifully filmed. Good color and depth.

Ooo, Greg Kinnear, Zazie Beetz, and Chris O'Dowd feature in future episodes.
posted by heatvision at 4:30 AM on April 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


I saw this on youtube because I'm not a CBSAA sub. This isn't going to change that.

My reaction when I fired it up was "oh, an hour long?" and my reaction when it was over was to wish it had been 30m. I liked it okay, though a lot of that was because Nanjiani is always good. I feel like I should have liked it better because I can think of several praiseworthy things. The period where he convinces himself it's all ok because he's Doing Good. His jealousy over David, which we're not hand-held into thinking is or is not justifiable.

I guess in the end one thing really never stopped getting under my skin: that he could drop anything out there and get riotous laughter, so long as it was new. I wanted it to at least have a sheen of funny rather than it being enough for it to be "let me tell you about this fuckin guy." When it's his nephew as the subject it actually is a little funny. Perhaps if they hadn't had those first few things actually be amusing it would have been less grating to me.

Did anyone else think he was going to name-check the club and its stupid missing apostrophe in order to undo everything?
posted by phearlez at 10:52 AM on April 4, 2019 [4 favorites]


I too was faked out and thought the ending would be him riffing on the missing apostrophe!
posted by Faintdreams at 12:18 PM on April 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


I guess in the end one thing really never stopped getting under my skin: that he could drop anything out there and get riotous laughter, so long as it was new.

To me that was a big part of the story working. It wasn't remotely funny. The Twilight Zoniness of it was that as soon as he said a name the crowd went nuts. He wasn't earning anything. They weren't laughing at anything. He wanted the laughter and he got it, but he never earned any of it. He did have to pay for it.

I was not faked out by the club name but now I'm thinking about it. One thing I was expecting to see was all of the disappeared people in the mural at the end. They may have been there - I'll have to rewatch. The classic TZ characters in the mural were really neat though. I'm really enjoying the tie-ins between the first two episodes and older TZ stuff so far and I'm looking forward to the apparently many more easter eggs to come.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 12:29 PM on April 4, 2019 [5 favorites]


The thing that really bothered me about this episode is that I expected it to be funny, at least the stand-up bits. But it went the opposite way. It was practically anti-funny. It hated comedy and its traditions. One of the funniest things comedians do is put each other down. And that happened here too, but it was never funny. Not even close. How do you squeeze all the laughs out of talking smack?

But Clinging to the Wreckage really made me rethink that. What if not being funny, even when getting laughs, was the whole point? *Blink*

I came to it thinking it's Peele and Nanjani who both got their start in comedy and are both comedic geniuses, so I thought there would have to be a great joke at some point. Nope. And I'll admit after that, I figured this project failed. But now I see why they'd do that, and realize they're still both geniuses as is Clinging, and perhaps I'm the fool.
posted by Stanczyk at 4:52 PM on April 4, 2019


Also, I think Curse is right and that Speilberg's Make Me Laugh episode of Night Gallery heavily influenced this episode. It's not exactly the same, but it's a seed.
posted by Stanczyk at 5:00 PM on April 4, 2019


But Clinging to the Wreckage really made me rethink that. What if not being funny, even when getting laughs, was the whole point? *Blink*

I guess my issue with that is feeling like we would need to have seen Samir - at least in passing - wrestle with the realization that he's not being funny. Maybe we're expected to think he just doesn't know he's not funny and so it's never much of a change from his perspective? Are we supposed to think he just doesn't ever notice and that's why his ex pointing out that his book of jokes is really just a list of names helps jolt him out of it? That just doesn't work for me because we see him actually be funny. His bit with the dog may be somewhat trite but it's amusing. His timing while doing that and busting on nephew is pretty good.

I guess this is a me thing more than anything else, and perhaps having him come to the realization that he's not actually doing anything to earn the laughs would fuck up the timing of the arc. We'd need to see him have some recognition and accept the cost but then later come back to reject the cost, and perhaps that's too much up and down in the arc. But they took an hour to do this, so I'm less sanguine about shrugging off that argument, personally.

To a lesser extent I dislike the idea that this is external force making people laugh because that then makes me care about Tracy Jordan's character origins and motivation. And since Samir recognizes him he presumably is familiar with his work. If he's just paying the devil's bargain forward you'd think Samir would recognize what the work looked like, but even as a I need this to Mean Something crusader Samir respects this fellow. Purely because of this outside force? Accepting the idea that it doesn't have to be even remotely passing as funny demands too many other questions from me in order to find it workable.
posted by phearlez at 8:48 AM on April 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


All the shots of Tracy Morgan emerging from a cloud of vape smoke suggest to me that we are to understand him as a devil figure. The basic structure of the first scene with Samir suggests a deal with the devil, sealed with clinking glasses. So, I don't know exactly who Tracy Morgan's character is supposed to be or what he is capable of, but in filmic language, he's Old Scratch.
posted by chrchr at 11:09 AM on April 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


I thought the unfunniness of the magic jokes were metacommentary about the type of humor that people seem to like, the morality of comedy, and maybe more specifically, the morality of comedy audiences. He's basically doing insult comedy with the power. People like insult comedy so long as feelings aren't hurt, and they won't be if the target instantly disappears. Alex Rubens, credited as the writer for this episode, was a writer for Key & Peele. Their sketch about insult comedy is focused on cruelty vs. empathy and the moment when people stop laughing. The jokes at the beginning of this sketch are also completely unfunny yet successful.

This episode keeps emphasizing the kind of humor that Samir really wants to do: the second amendment bit, which is the type of joke that's more likely to get applause than laughs from an appreciative audience. Even if it isn't laugh-out-loud funny, it establishes him as someone who is both moral and clever, I think. He's not cynical, and he's giving the audience a lot of credit by trying to do those jokes. He expects them to be good and clever too. Even after he has power, he still wants to make that work. He keeps starting every set with that same joke, hoping... And that makes this a better story, seeing someone who is good and smart be tempted by power, instead of seeing a selfish person abuse it.

I think Samir does recognize that the magic jokes aren't funny. But he can justify it at first because he's doing good (with the pedophile for example), and then he's making his own life easier (with his girlfriend's mentor for example). I think it's some time into the episode when he becomes worn down and disappointed by audiences who don't give a damn, and by his style not working, that he loses hope in the audience and himself.
posted by heatvision at 11:16 AM on April 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


The problem with Samir’s unfunny, magic jokes is that we had to sit through them. We, the teevee viewers. An hour of unfunny jokes that were, perhaps, meta- but never transcendent.
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 8:50 PM on April 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


I was amused by a shot early in the episode where Samir is bombing and the EDDIES sign in the background is cut off so it reads DIES as he's "dying" on stage. A bit of foreshadowing of the ending as well.
posted by kindall at 11:11 AM on April 10, 2019 [2 favorites]


Season now available in black & white!
posted by sageleaf at 7:29 PM on June 3, 2019


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