The first season of “I'm Dying Up Here” introduced viewers to a group of early '70s Los Angeles comics with hopes of stardom and enough baggage to fill a fleet of 787s. In Season 2 of the Showtime drama, we learn where all that pain comes from.
As the 10-episode sophomore season gets underway Sunday, the storylines switch from the goings-on at the Sunset Strip comedy club Goldie's to the personal lives of the stand-ups themselves.
They are Cassie (Ari Graynor), the Texas transplant carrying around a secret that leaks into her personal and professional lives; Nick (Jake Lacy), grappling with demons that make it difficult to stay away from heroin; Ron (Clark Duke), whose overnight success on a TV sitcom proves far more problematic than his former obscurity; Eddie (Michael Angarano), now in a relationship with Cassie and writing jokes for Roy Martin (guest star Brad Garrett, “Everybody Loves Raymond”), a Vegas comedy legend with a few demons of his own; and Adam (RJ Cyler), who finds doors opening, professional and otherwise, thanks to a hit comedy album.
And then there is club owner Goldie herself (Melissa Leo), who it turns out doesn't have the happiest relationship with her daughter Amanda (guest star Stefania LaVie Owen, “The Carrie Diaries”), a sullen 18-year-old who flogs her divorced mom with silence.
It's a veritable cornucopia of angst that might not be great for the morale of the characters involved, but for the actors playing them, it's dramatic gold. That's especially the case for Graynor, who appreciates how the show's writers fleshed out Cassie as a strong woman in a man's world in Season 1 and gave her a big storyline this go-round.
“Right off the bat, they told me about this very big secret that sort of influences everything and really begins to be a major factor in a lot of self-destructive behavior,” the actress explains.
“You know, some of it's her fault, some of it isn't, but there's a lot of shame and self-loathing underneath, and I think it's a fascinating thing in life how we all compensate for those things where we punish ourselves in unconscious ways. And I think you really get to watch that with her and a lot of other characters as well.”
Probably the most noteworthy among them is Roy Martin, the unhappy comic played with a commanding presence by Garrett. He's a sour, world-weary figure with an obvious disdain for the other comedians at Goldie's – and perhaps the strongest character of the new season.
“Oh my God! I love that guy,” enthuses series writer/creator David Flebotte. “He has chemistry with every single actor. He's great with Melissa. He's great with Michael Angarano. He's great with Cassie. He's just a guy you could put him anywhere and he ups the energy level like by 50 percent. He's just great and he's so fun to write for.”
“He's just tortured, and a lot of it is mental illness,” he continues, “and drinking and coke and whoring and all the other vices. But what's great about him is there's a self-awareness to it. It's not just someone running reckless. It's someone tortured knowing that they're tortured, knowing that they're not right.”