Cancelled TV Shows: New Season 2017 (Photos)

When an actress standing on stage miming a deepthroat, balls-fondling blow job serves as the climax of your TV pilot, and it’s actually an emotionally resonant and gratifying moment for the audience at home, you know you’ve got something special on your hands.

Executive produced by Jim Carrey, Showtime’s new hourlong show “I’m Dying Up Here” is a drama about comedy. It’s set in early 1970s LA, near the dawn of the comedy revolution; Lenny Bruce is dead and Richard Pryor has yet to become Richard Pryor, a hungry new class of stand-ups are flooding nightclubs, lounges, and bars to crack jokes that would have gotten them arrested just a decade prior. Johnny Carson has just moved “The Tonight Show” out west, and a set on his program — and better yet, an invite to his couch afterward — could fast track you to stardom.

That’s exactly what happens for Clay Appuzzo (Sebastian Stan), who gets the career-changing call from Johnny after delivering a killer set about his Italian family. His comedian friends watch the broadcast that night on a small TV in the back of a bar, while he watches alone in a hotel room just a few miles away, eating dinner off a tray on his bed and smiling at himself on screen. It’s rare that anyone gets to watch a replay of the moment their life changed, and the mix of jealousy and awe that his friends display when he gets called to the couch makes clear that everything will soon be different.

If only they had any idea just how things were about to change.

The next day, Clay throws back a few beers and then steps off the curb and right into the path of an oncoming bus. It hits him head-on, and he’s flung halfway across the street, killed on impact. This is no spoiler — the collision happens about 15 minutes into the episode, setting the tone for the series by scrambling the worlds of so many of LA’s young comedians.

His ex-girlfriend Cassie, played by Ari Graynor, is devastated; Clay wasn’t a great boyfriend, but they dated for two years, and his mix of charm and good looks had her mesmerized from the start. Graynor is an immediate standout in the series, having finally found a role that makes great use of her mix of sexual energy and emotional vulnerability. She’s the one on stage, faking the blow job in the end, and it’s a great victory for her character, who is told that she hadn’t yet found her niche as a female comedian; the rawness of the performance that Cassie gives at the end, which evokes her relationship with Clay, is a sign of big things to come, both for the character and Graynor herself.

The irony is that she’s told that she needs to find a niche by a club owner named by Goldie Herschlag. Melissa Leo offers up a powerhouse performance as the sharp-tongued woman who nurtures and doles out tough love to the young comedians, to the point that it almost seems like a documentary when she’s in the scenes. She’s passionate and witty and powerful, and you can’t imagine her anywhere but that smoke-filled club at the tail end of the Vietnam War.

The cast is filled with up-and-comers and young vets, like Michael Angarano and Clark Duke as two young Bostonians who come to LA to meet up with Clay, only to learn of his death. Comedy nerd heroes like Al Madrigal (of “The Daily Show”) and Jon Daly (Adult Swim specials) have roles as scene regulars, while RJ Cyler plays a young would-be comedian who gets forced into some awful situations in the first episode.

The show isn’t perfect, and strains a bit to make its hour runtime. But as a portrait of young, hungry, desperate artists, as well as a group of friends bound by ambition and torn apart by jealousy, it’s a pretty good watch. Plus, the production design really transports you back to the ‘70s, which makes you all the more grateful that you’re alive today and don’t have to dress like they did back then.

View Photos HBO Renews 'Veep' and 'Silicon Valley' -- What Else Is Safe?