The jokes land clumsily in three comedies premiering this spring.
Sometimes, thankfully, that awkward feeling is intentional.
Fox’s new offering, starting Tuesday night, is probably called “Weird Loners” because “Slightly Offbeat New Yorkers Trapped in a Dysfunctional Clique” doesn’t fit on the channel guide so well.
To be fair, the show does have one legitimately weird loner, tollbooth attendant Eric (Nate Torrence). He and the three other much-less weirdos stumble, wince and explain their way through the first episodes until they’re all neighbors.
Despite that, the actors don’t seem like they’re always on the same show, even when they’re in the same scene.
The incense-burning Buddhist, the out-of-work salesman, the high-strung dental hygienist, the sock puppet artist — they just can’t connect with each other.
Except for the really good-looking ones. They start making out almost immediately.
As cash-strapped yuppie Cousin Stosh, Zachary Knighton (formerly of “Happy Endings”) is the only cast member whose performance is consistently smooth and amusing through the first three episodes of “Weird Loners.” Before “Loners” finds its footing, Stosh’s adventures in scoring with his friends’ wives is the closest we get to a compelling backstory.
All four leads in the show, including “Ugly Betty” alum Becki Newton and Meera Rohit Kumbhani of the short thriller “Deadline,” have early scenes proving they’re funny. They’re just not being funny all together at the same time yet.
Things are a little more polished on the first season of TV Land’s “Younger.” Which is to be expected for a blatant ripoff of “The Devil Wears Prada.”
Former publicity wiz Liza (Sutton Foster) can’t get a job in her old field after taking 15 years off to be a mom. So she assumes the identity, resume and wardrobe of a 26-year-old. It works like a charm, and she’s soon working for Miranda Priestly 2.0 at a publishing house, fetching hot coffee and tweeting as Jane Austen.
She even meets a cute 20-something guy (Nico Tortorella), a tattoo artist who tries to chat her up with a joke about Lena Dunham.
“Who’s Lena Dunham?” Liza wonders.
Hilary Duff stars as Liza’s workplace frenemy. Debi Mazar does her sassy straight-talking thing as Liza’s best friend and makeover fairy.
But we’re just here for the clothes, to be honest. Patricia Field, the wardrobe genius who put Sarah Jessica Parker in all those great looks in “Sex and the City,” did the clothes for “Younger,” and they’re fantastic: slouchy dresses under army jackets, bold plaids and fringe, anything to make 40-year-old Liza “pass” as a youngster again.
At one point, wearing a simple gown for a dinner date, she says: “It’s good to be back in my own clothes again. Some of those hipster vintage-store finds smell like weed.”
“Younger” is from “Sex and the City” creator Darren Star, which in this case means it’s a well-done but not earth-shattering excuse to watch actresses wear clothes on location around New York City. And unlike women who dare to work after the age of 40, that idea has evidently not gotten old.
Someone should probably be making a TV show out of the making of FX’s “The Comedians,” a behind-the-scenes mockumentary about Billy Crystal making a fictional sketch comedy show for FX with Josh Gad, known for his Broadway turn in “Book of Mormon.”
“You should do Broadway,” he tells Crystal, a Tony winner, in the first of countless groan-inducing moments between the comics. Gad and Crystal don’t really want to work together, but each is the other’s ticket to 13 guaranteed episodes of “The Billy and Josh Show.”
Because it’s a show about showbiz people making a show, it feels a lot like other shows that have been made about making shows. Which makes sense, once you see the first-episode cameo by “Comedians” writer/director Larry Charles, who also worked on “Seinfeld,” “Entourage” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Crystal plays himself in Larry David mode, or Jerry Seinfeld mode, or Garry Shandling as Larry Sanders mode. Take your pick.
It’s all very self-referential and meta: Guest star Mel Brooks tells Crystal he should line up a guest star for “The Billy and Josh Show,” and Gad’s songwriting pals from “Frozen” show up to call him an idiot after he asks Crystal, “Have you ever done any singing?”
Every once in a while the comedians actually execute a “Billy and Josh” skit, and the results are equal parts hilarious and cringe-inducing, which is the desired effect of “The Comedians” itself. So it all works out.
“The Comedians” does itself a favor by lining up a great supporting cast, with Dana Delaney as Crystal’s wife and Stephnie Weir of “MadTV” as neurotic producer Kristen. Dennis O’Hare, who usually appears on FX in “American Horror Story,” makes his role as a network executive a study in earnest insincerity.
As script writer Mitch and apathetic assistant Esme, young actors Matt Oberg and Megan Ferguson gradually steal more and more scenes as “The Comedians” keeps rolling. The casually caustic Esme, in particular, is a classic Larry Charles archetype, drop-kicking the copier and then laconically twirling her hair while Mitch tries in vain to get her to do her job.
“Esme,” he says during an all-nighter, “should we get some pizza?”
“Yeah. Sounds great. I like gluten-free crust, but whatever,” she says, returning to her iPhone.
The survival of “The Comedians” depends on how much people find Gad and Crystal’s So Painfully Wrong schtick amusing. “Curb Your Enthusiasm” proved that people will tune in to watch people rub each other the wrong way, as long as the laughs remain intact. It’s a point that show proved so well that “The Comedians” might need more than the occasional bit of sketch comedy to keep itself from feeling too familiar.
It’s the same problem that might trip up “Younger” and “Weird Loners”: They’re just too derivative. And that’s the most awkward part of all.
To reach Sara Smith, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @SarawatchesKC.
Where to watch
▪ “Weird Loners” premieres Tuesday night at 8:30 on Fox.
▪ “Younger” premieres Tuesday night at 9 on TV Land.
▪ “The Comedians” premieres April 9 at 9 on FX.
This week’s A+E features a preview of the final episodes of “Mad Men,” plus a month of new and returning shows led by “Game of Thrones.”