All episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, it seemed like every comedy series on television was centered on a stand-up comic whose act served as the primary inspiration for the stories being told each week. Seinfeld, Roseanne, Everybody Loves Raymond and many more followed this model, and yet, despite the prevalence of comedians-turned-TV-stars, Andrew Dice Clay — one of the most popular comedians of the late 1980s — never was able to find that starring vehicle that would make him a staple of network television.
Over the years, Clay tried multiple times to headline his own show, but short-lived attempts like Bless This House and Hitz not only failed to gain any traction, they were roundly derided as some of the worst shows of their respective years. However, television is in a very different place nowadays. In a world where a revamped Full House exists, it no longer seems so strange for Clay to be the center of his own comedy series. Now, a new six-episode run on Showtime will once again give him a shot at the television spotlight.
Titled simply Dice, the show follows a fictionalized version of the real-life Clay as he deals with celebrity life, hangs out with his best friend Milkshake (character actor Kevin Corrigan, and yes that’s his name) and bickers with his girlfriend Carmen (Natasha Leggero). If that setup sounds relatively similar to critically acclaimed HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm, it should, as Dice — like that Larry David show — leans pretty heavily on the dynamic that exists when a past-his-prime celebrity is forced to settle into a somewhat more conventional existence.
The pilot’s first scene illustrates this point perfectly, as Dice attempts to parlay his celebrity status into a deal on windows. Befitting the show’s self-deprecating tone, he soon finds out that the salesman has no clue who he is, likely mirroring the perspective of many millennial viewers.
From the outset, Dice wisely embraces the deliberate “comeback” feel of its existence, addressing it head-on and moving past it at a brisk pace. The opening credits even feature archive footage of Clay’s heyday onstage before the title appears over a crumbling building. So, as far as re-familiarizing viewers with the comedian’s achievements, the show is a triumph.
Yet, despite its similarities to comedies of the past that have aimed to blur the line between life and art, Dice fits quite neatly into older sitcom conventions as well. The show wrings a ton of humor out of the relationship between Dice and his girlfriend Carmen, often painting him as the lovable, well-intentioned doofus and her as the frustrated voice of reason. Both roles are tried-and-true archetypes, and accordingly, they work fairly well. Still, in that regard, Dice brings little new to the table.
To be fair, the freedom of premium cable does prove to be a far better fit for Clay’s crude, abrasive style of comedy than the heavily regulated landscape of the Big Four networks would have been. The series — created by Scot Armstrong, writer/director of 2014 comedy Search Party — attempts to balance Clay’s in-your-face sense of humor with a more subversive, satirical tone, and these two disparate approaches simply don’t always fit into a cohesive narrative. Dice certainly gives Clay a solid foundation for which to take center stage, but it need to fine-tune its tone a bit more to truly capture his comedic essence.
Despite its star’s best efforts, the episodes throughout the first season are a decidedly mixed bag. Sure, there’s the random subplot involving a search for the lost sculpture of Dice’s, ahem, manhood and a hilarious appearance by Oscar winner Adrien Brody as himself (who handily outclasses the series’ other guest stars). Yet, by and large, the storylines that encompass these six episodes rarely deliver consistent laughs and instead riff on character relationships and story angles that viewers have seen before.
The show’s saving grace, however, is its cast. Clay plays this exaggerated version of himself with such verve that it’s easy to glimpse why his distinct sense of humor once made him a superstar. Though the character frequently veers into offensive territory, Clay plays it with such aplomb and almost a sense of innocence that he never truly alienates viewers. Leggero — who currently stars on the Comedy Central series Another Period — is particularly good as Carmen, while Corrigan (Goodfellas) makes less of an impression despite some choice moments.
Overall, Dice may not be a groundbreaking piece of television, but it does feel in many ways like a culmination for Clay’s career. It’s no accident that the comedian’s most recent comedy specials aired on Showtime, as the network clearly sees long-term potential in his working-class appeal. Recent years also appear to have been gradually setting the stage for Clay’s comeback, as the comedian even delivered a critically acclaimed dramatic turn in Woody Allen’s 2013 Oscar winner Blue Jasmine. If nothing else, this Showtime series gives him another venue to reinvigorate his existing fanbase and attract new admirers. Here’s hoping that Dice finds its creative footing a bit more if it is fortunate enough to return for season 2.
Dice blurs the line between life and art, but its stories let down a winning cast led by the funnyman in a confident comeback.