×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Neil Simon’s Laugher On The 23rd Floor

As well-cast a cable production as one could hope for, Showtime's version of Neil Simon's play "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" proves a sparkling ensemble can make even mediocre material entertaining.

With:
Max Prince - Nathan Lane Val - Mark Linn-Baker Kenny - Victor Garber Ira - Saul Rubinek Carol - Peri Gilpin Milt - Dan Castellaneta Harry - Richard Portnow Brian - Zach Grenier Lucas - Mackenzie Astin Cal Weebs - Colin Fox Faye - Sherry Miller

As well-cast a cable production as one could hope for, Showtime’s version of Neil Simon’s play “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” proves a sparkling ensemble can make even mediocre material entertaining. Director Richard Benjamin and Simon, who did the adaptation, take one of the writer’s least satisfying works and make it worse, transforming a pretty plotless piece into a barely coherent one. And yet, Nathan Lane — playing a volatile but likable comic genius plainly based on the legendary Sid Caesar — and a superb group of supporting players mine this stuff expertly, making each part worth far more than the sum of the whole.

The piece is a tribute to Caesar and to his assembly of a remarkable group of talented writers for his classic sketch series, “Your Show of Shows.” This series, as well as “Caesar’s Hour,” involved the likes of Larry Gelbart, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Carl Reiner, and, of course, Neil Simon. (A documentary on this subject, entitled “Hail Sid Caesar! The Golden Age of Comedy,” will premiere immediately after “Laughter.”)

In this fictionalized elegy to the good old days of live TV, Lane plays Max Prince, star of a long-running variety series for NBC that’s not playing to the heartland as well as the network honchos — all given funny, exceedingly goyishe names — would like. As the pressure builds on Prince to tone down the ethnic humor and water down his material, his gaggle of ever-quipping writers begins to worry that their temperamental boss is falling victim to Scotch and tranquilizers. This comedy writing team, a veritable factory of one-liners, is portrayed by a superior group of familiar faces that includes Mark Linn-Baker, Victor Garber, Saul Rubinek, Dan Castellaneta (“The Simpsons”), and “Frasier’s” Peri Gilpin. Mackenzie Astin (“First Years”), the blandest of the lot, plays a young newcomer who narrates the tale intermittently and unhelpfully.

No question, this group of actors could form the basis of one heckuva of a comedy show, and it’s hard to watch this film without wishing they would just do sketch comedy instead of depicting the behind-the-scenes making of it. The one time we do get a glimpse, with Lane playing Marlon Brando playing Julius Caesar, it’s downright hysterical. Then, sadly, we get back to the pic proper, which includes many mentions of McCarthyism without much interesting commentary on it.

What’s a bit strange is that not only has this material been done better before, it’s been done better by the same people doing this. Benjamin directed the much more appealing “My Favorite Year,” which starred Linn-Baker and had the same basic setting if not the same perspective. And Simon, who’s usually sure-footed if not inspired in adapting his stage plays to the screen, makes some real mistakes here, adding a character (Max’s brother Harry, played by Richard Portnow), bringing in Max’s home life and “opening up” the settings by splitting up the scenes and moving them from place to place. The end result is a film that feels like it reaches its climax in the first few minutes and descends into falling action from there.

The cast makes the comedy work, although the streaming jokes get really tired really fast, and the scenes aren’t sustained enough to build significant momentum. Jacqueline Cambas’ editing is notably stiff and Joseph Vitarelli’s score just plain treacly.

Neil Simon's Laugher On The 23rd Floor

Showtime, Sat. May 26, 8 p.m.

Production: Filmed in Toronto by Paramount Network Television. Executive producers, Neil Simon, Emanuel Azenberg; producer, Jeffrey Lampert. Director, Richard Benjamin; writer, Neil Simon, based on his play.

Crew: Cinematography, Danny Nowak; production design, Franco De Cotiis; costumes, Tamara Winston; editor, Jacqueline Cambas; music, Joseph Vitarelli; casting, Nancy Foy. 105 MIN

Cast: Max Prince - Nathan Lane Val - Mark Linn-Baker Kenny - Victor Garber Ira - Saul Rubinek Carol - Peri Gilpin Milt - Dan Castellaneta Harry - Richard Portnow Brian - Zach Grenier Lucas - Mackenzie Astin Cal Weebs - Colin Fox Faye - Sherry MillerWith: Craig Eldridge, Ardon Bess, Roy Lewis, Karyn Dwyer, Keith Knight, Steven Morel, Shannon Rowe, Irene Lopez, Samantha Espie, Robert Bidaman, Victor A. Young, Gerry Quigley, Frank Proctor, Johnny Gardhouse, Alex Fallis, David Gow, Neil Foster, Philip Craig, Jake Goldsbie, Heather Paine, Marcia Bennett, Shaun Smyth, Ian D. Clark, Kristi Angus, Jack Jessop, Tamara Hickey, Roger Dunn, Michael Hanrahan, Jeffrey Lampert, Kelsey Matheson.

More TV

  • Name Of The Rose

    Germany's Tele München Group Sold to Investment Firm KKR

    Global investment firm KKR has acquired Tele München Group, one of Germany’s largest television businesses. The surprise deal was announced Thursday. New York-based global investor KKR has holdings in multiple sectors, including infrastructure, energy and real estate. Tele München Group, or TMG, is active in both production and distribution; its projects include the highly anticipated [...]

  • UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report: Women, Minorities

    Hollywood Diversity Gains in TV but Falls Short in Movies

    Minorities and women have registered gains in several key areas of television but women continue to lag in movies, according to a report issued Thursday by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. “My basic take is that TV is improving more for minorities and women than film,” said Dr. Darnell [...]

  • 60 Minutes" reporter Lara Logan takes

    Lara Logan Says She's Been 'Targeted' for Her Claims of Liberal Media Bias

    Former CBS News foreign correspondent Lara Logan appeared on “Hannity” Wednesday evening to expand on her recent remarks characterizing the media as “mostly liberal.” “It’s obvious, right, because you get targeted,” she said, explaining her earlier comments that she was committing “professional suicide” by criticizing the media. “It’s the same group of people, they’re already [...]

  • Jussie Smollett

    'Empire' Producers Consider Suspending Jussie Smollett (EXCLUSIVE)

    Fox is considering removing Jussie Smollett from production on “Empire.” Sources close to the production told Variety that producers are weighing whether to suspend the actor after he was charged Wednesday in Chicago with filing a false police report. A spokesperson for 20th Century Fox Television, which produces the series, declined to comment. Smollett’s status on [...]

  • Game of Thrones Final Season: Best

    The Best 'Game of Thrones' Merch to Get You Ready for the New Season

    We’re just weeks away from the premiere of the final season of “Game of Thrones,” and whether you’re a die-hard fan, on the hunt for a novelty gift, or a serious collector hoping to nab some memorabilia before the series signs off for good, we’ve found 10 pieces of merch that pay tribute to one [...]

  • Ryan KadroPaleyLive NY: The News Is

    Ryan Kadro Will Join Quibi to Oversee News Programming (EXCLUSIVE)

    Ryan Kadro left CBS News several weeks ago, but he isn’t leaving the news business. Kadro, the former executive producer of “CBS This Morning” is set to join Quibi, the company led by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman that is devoted to short-form  content. Kadro is expected to oversee news programming for the subscription-based service, [...]

  • Jussie Smollett

    Jussie Smollett Charged With Filing False Police Report

    “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett has been charged with filing a false police report, the Chicago police said Wednesday. “Detectives will make contact with his legal team to negotiate a reasonable surrender for his arrest,” police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said on Twitter. Smollett is due to appear in court for a bond hearing at 1:30 p.m. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content