I have to say I am warming up to this series. After a pilot episode that was heavy-handed and lackluster, I remained hopeful that the show would right itself early on. I’m glad to report that with I’M DYING UP HERE’s third episode, this seems to be the case. Though you can often hear the writers trying too hard to make their characters witty, the performances lend charm and authenticity to the show that is starting to grow on me.
This episode saw a myriad of plotlines play out across its sizable cast. Almost everyone has something to do here. Edgar takes a fifteen minute set at a comedy club called King Theodore’s, a direct rival of Goldie’s. Teddy impresses Edgar when he reveals that he provides a free buffet for his comedians… one that includes shrimp. When Goldie finds out that he has “betrayed” her she bumps him from the list of performers that night. Edgar rallies a few of the other Goldie’s staples to confront her about letting them hone their sets at Theodore’s, but really they just want the free buffet. Bill remarks that eventually they’re going to have to start getting paid and Goldie balks. “This is a school,” she says. And schools don’t pay their students.
This is particularly troubling for Sully, who has a six-week old newborn at home. Late night he sneaks back into Goldie’s kitchen and steals a bag of frozen battered onion rings. When he comes home to his wife, she implores him to take care of them. They need at least another forty a week. He phones a friend who agrees to send money but lets Sully know this is the last of it. Sully talks to his boss at the auto shop he makes his own hours at, and his boss tells him there is an opening for a full time sales gig, and Sully’s humor could be quite the advantageous tool in such a position. He’d also have to shave his beard and cut his hair, which would put quite the dent in his starving artist look he’s got going. Sully tells him he can’t do it, but we know he’s still considering it. He has to be a good father and provide for his family.
Speaking of fathers, Bill’s father and sister are still in town. It turns out that his dad was let go from GM, where he worked for thirty-one years. Bill has had about enough of the visit, but his sister tells him that she thought it would be great for his dad to spend more time in the sunshine of Los Angeles as opposed to going back to the grey of Michigan. They settle on taking him to Goldie’s to see a stand-up he and his wife like: Judy Elder (played by Judy Gold).
Judy is an aging stand-up comedian, long time friend of Goldie’s, and a mother of three grown children. She lives and works the stand-up circuits in Las Vegas, but commutes to Los Angeles just to do sets at Goldie’s. “Laughs only matter on the coasts,” she tells Goldie. Problem is her set doesn’t play well with the younger, more hip crowd. Bill’s father eats it up however. It is painful for Goldie to have to tell her she doesn’t have a place on her stage anymore, and it’s even more painful for Judy to hear, but Goldie tells her she’s doing it as a friend. Judy gets to leave with some dignity and maintain her image. Before she leaves, Judy talks to Cassie (who had trashed her set to others earlier) and tells her to keep doing what she’s doing, to keep pushing the envelope. Cassie takes this to heart, as she recently got torn apart for including a story about her dead parents in her set.
The real fun stuff of the episode again comes with the younger comics. Last week Ron and Eddie’s Deal or No Deal stint was the most enjoyable part of the episode, and this week continues that trend, this time adding Adam to make it a trio. Adam finally gets a time slot in The Cellar, but he’s unhappy to learn he’ll be following a ventriloquist act. And that the act is entirely the dummy saying very, very racist things. He complains to Arnie, but Arnie sees it as satire. It’s not. Late in the episode, after Adam confronts the ventriloquist, Arnie has an aside with him and realizes he is actually just a racist, and he is responsible for having put him in a slot.
Soon thereafter, the dummy goes missing, and Adam, Eddie, and Ron are looking pretty culpable. Though they do find it funny, they do not confess to the crime. When it comes time for him to take the stage, he can’t. With the mic and slot now open, Adam, Eddie, and Ron storm the stage and improvise a racist game show, to much laughter from the crowd, and even Arnie. Later, when somebody asks Arnie to borrow some jumper cables from his trunk, we see the dummy in there; he’s the one who took it. It was a pleasant surprise and added something to a character that’s been fairly passive the last few weeks.
In the end, Goldie pulls Edgar into her office to give him her verdict on his having taken a set at Theodore’s. She says Edgar Martinez is never going to play Goldie’s again… But Manny Martinez will. Why? Because it sounds funnier. It rolls off the tongue. AND she wants to assert her complete control over these thirsty comedians. She has so much power she can change their names on a whim as she sees fit. Manny agrees; he has to.
And in the final scene we see Sully at a barber shop getting a trim and a shave. Finished, he stares in the mirror, tears glistening in his eyes.
Overall, it was a solid episode that hit on a lot of characters, but somehow made it all work. I hope the show continues this trend upwards.
Season 1, Episode 3 (S01E03)
I’m Dying Up Here airs Sunday at 10PM on Showtime
Paul Gulyas | Contributor