Kill The Casting Agent! Levitt Explores Why T.V. Shows Fail

 

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The recent axing of several new TV Shows recently has inspired me to try to make sense of the carnage. clearly many shows are obiviously shelved due to poor time slots, inane premises, or just good old fashioned bad writing. However, more often than not, I feel that bad casting is at the core of viewers deciding to switch channels.

Alex Inc-  Braff In Charge????

ZACH BRAFF

Ordinarily popular Zach Braff should should never ettempt to play anyone who is in charge of anything. On screen, the last thing the congenial Braff  exudes is a sense of decisiveness or authority.  In any conceivable workplace,  it seems un-imaginable to picture Braff managing anything more nuanced or pliable than a sock display.  Furthermore, with his feather-weight, nebbishy personality,  it was ridiculous that he would be cast as the boss of noted tough-guy actor, Michael Imperioli, (previously “Nicholas” from the Sopranos) . To most half-awake viewers, Braff and and Imperioli thrown together in an office can only have one conceivable final outcome… after a few tense seconds, Braff finding himself on the receiving-end of a violent pistol whipping.

Just Say “No” To Imaginary Cast Members:

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Clearly TV Viewers don’t cotton to invisible characters that only the lead can see.  With the cancellation of a whopping four shows with imaginary characters this season: “Kevin probably saves saves the world” ,”Imaginary Mary” with Jenna Elfman,  and Jane Lynch’s “Angel From Hell”.  These characters often prove obnoxiously devilish, cutesy or overly sanctimonious, in the final analysis, there must be some logical reason nobody else can see them. “too annoying for this world” gets my vote.To me, the appeal of imaginary friends, peaked with “Harvey The Rabbit”

9JKL-I Think I got your Role By Mistake

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The casting agent for the show 9JKL should be sued. On its face, the decision to cast Mark Feuerstein and Dave Walton as brothers makes no sense.  Carlton is a foot taller than Feuerstein and other than being Caucasian, both men share little of the same physical features .In addition, the decision to cast irresponsible/smarmy looking actor, Dave Walton, as a married doctor and boy-scout appearing, Mark Feuerstein, as divorced actor seems insane.  Obviously, the actors two should have swapped roles because they seem ideally suited to each other’s parts.  Perhaps the cast list had mixed up their roles or a stage hand hand given them the wrong sides and they just stayed with it. Whatever the reasons,  I have not seen such a head-scratching casting decision since  Henry Winkler “The Fonz” was hired as the spokesman for “OneReverse” a reverse mortgage company.

“Kevin Can Wait”- Take My Wife…Please.. or “Quietly Kill, Then Replace”

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Erinn Hayes,  who was cast as the wife on “Kevin Can Wait” didn’t work.  She wasn’t horrible but Hayes’ regular, classy laid-back style couldn’t keep pace with Kevin James’  frequently physical, larger-than-life zany comic energy. So, In a quick Knee-jerk response, the show  quickly decided to end her character’s arc by killing her off. The death was accomplished with all the swiftness and discretion of a mob hit. Nobody saw it coming and the cast barely spoke about it. Quickly, the show teamed Kevin James with his partner from “King Of Queens”,  Leah Remini and  rekindle the old “familiarity breeds contempt” relationship they shared as husband and wife . Now, though, they were just co-workers.  The same contemptuous bickering that is so relatable in an average marriage just doesn’t wash in the workplace.  That’s why companies force you to go through harassment prevention training and take a test!

Please Report to Tim Meadows’ Office

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*Sometimes casting choices out of left field just work . During his SNL heydey, I would never have suspected that Tim Meadows had any kind of a knack for playing school principals.  But every time he appears as a principal in “, “The Goldbergs” “Teachers” etc. amazingly he shines. Some actors , it seems, are destined to play important roles (King Lear or Winston Churchill), Tim Meadows was born to make teenagers tuck in their pants and spit out their gum.

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Actors Who Are Always Cast In The Same Roles (part 2)

Matthew Mcconaughey

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He Aint Nothin’ But A Horn-dog

Whatever he’s playing, an attorney, stock trader, or high school drop out, one thing is for sure, Matthew Mcconaughey is playing a character who is horny.  He takes roles of people who never do anything by halves and are always “up” for a new sexual conquest.  So, you will never see Mcconaughey playing a deprived or sexually repressed role like a priest or an avid stamp collector.  It could be Matt’s wolfish/evil smile, his tan skin, spaced-out acting style…or maybe he used to be a  fat, dateless teenager and is using his screen career to overcompensate… I don’t know.  but whatever the reasons, one thing is clear…if you’re a respectable woman and you see this Mcconaughey sidle up to you at a party, I’m not sure if you would want to go feeding him any oysters.

Joan Cusack

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She Aint Heavy, She’s My Sister

Its a good bet that if Joan Cusack is in a film, she’s related to one of the leads…Sister, cousin, aunt. Perhaps its her quirky, non-sexually threatening looks that always guide casting agents to pick her as supporting sibling or maybe its the fact that she has appeared in 10 films with her actor brother, John Cusack (usually playing his sister). Although determined looking and usually put-together, Cusack usually gives off the reluctant whiff of resignation/caution and that she lets the film’s protagonist do all the heavy lifting.  It is my impression that if Cusack was to play a role whose character would throw sisterly caution to the wind and take some risks ( Jump into a burning building to save a cat or Eat NY Street-meat) this (twice-nominated actress) would actually win an Oscar.

Martha Plimpton

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It Rhymes With Witch

Physically, Martha Plimpton looks like someone who just keyed your car. The sarcastic and satisfied smirk on your face lets you know that she either just screwed you (in a non sexual way), is in the process of screwing you, or will someday take you out on the back stoop and deeply screw you.  I say screw you (non-sexually) because Plimpton’s characters would never want to leave open the possibility of a mutually satisfying screwing. Her characters just enjoy being  evil.  So, you’ll never catch Plimpton donating coats to the homeless or working the phones at the “Make A Wish Foundation”.  Plimpton gets plenty of work as an evil foil.  Maybe casting agents put her in a lot of films/tv because they genuinely fear the prospect of  her nasty retribution.  Well, All I can say is, if you find yourself cast as one of Martha Plimpton’s Co-Stars, make sure all your life- insurance payments are up to date.

Loretta Devine

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I’ll Take My Eggs With A Side Of Sassy

You will never catch Loretta Devine playing a librarian.  She wants to be loud and noticed. asserting herself in her cheeky, blustery way Devine tends to play roles which are constantly demanding their rights whether or not the situation warrants (such as school administrators, social workers, or buttinsky aunts). Not content to just get her way. Devine’s characters always seem to always want her co-stars to admit and even loudly proclaim that she was right.  Also physically lumbering, and  I would never want to see Devineplaying a part where she would be in charge of anything delicate. Museum curator-( then, adios one-of-a-kind King Tut Skull!) or hospital phlebotomist ( then, “whoopsie, sir, sorry about that massive scar on your arm”.)

If you didn’t catch part 1 of my “Actors Who Are Always Cast In The Same Roles” article, just click this link: https://wp.me/p6Hm24-1J

Levitt Reviews Cobra Kai (**1/2)

 

kai

In a free two episode promotion I was able to catch YouTube Red’s new web-series “Cobra Kai”  online.  Being a big fan of the original Karate Kid film, I was curious to see how good/bad-cheesy The New web-series would be.

Early on in Cobra Kai,  a wary Daniel Laruso turns to his original rival, Johnny Lawrence,  and cautions “Hey, lets not rehash the past”.  Well If you are a Karate Kid fan who  wants to relive the spirit of the original film, you may enjoy Cobra Kai’s fateful, nostalgic journey.

Cobra Kai reunites Ralph Macchio (Daniel Laruso) and William Zabka (Johnny Lawrence)  34 years after the original Film.  “Danielson” now middle-aged is a smug, self satisfied and successful car dealership chain owner and Johnny Lawrence is a struggling Home repairman.

In a series of ridiculous coincidental meetings, ( Johnny has his car wrecked, by Daniel’s kids, and it is conveniently towed to Daniel’s car dealership home office) predictably, after the duo meet in person old tensions bubble up and resurface. Have you ever known old tensions in these action films/ shows to cool over time?

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One of the major elements which made the original Karate Kid film successful was that the title character was a fresh, down-and-out underdog who stands up against his school bully and, against the odds, wins the “All Valley Under 18 Karate Championships.  Now, though, Danielson underwhelms as a boring , domesticated over-dog. His main problem, other than too much disposable income, seems to be rescuing a drawer-full of his swim-trunks from the teenage genitals of a group of neighborhood kids who evidently never thought of the concept of “bringing their own” to a neighborhood pool party. Its hard to work up any sympathy for these “rich people problems”.  And the fact that Mr Miyagi’s star protege has matured into a successful car ship dealer? wow! Not that I expected Daniel Laruso to grow up to do something great…like form a new school of philosophy or make significant breakthroughs in the field of stem cell research…but having this promising kid grow up to be something as prosaic as a car dealer?

The deeper more sympathetic character in Cobra Kai, at least on paper, is “Johnny Lawrence”, he’s been fired, living in a cheap part of reseda, forced to eat stale pizza slices at a strip mall convenience store and taunted by commercials for Laruso’s Auto’s car dealerships . Ordinarily, his character should be more humble and likable. However, the creators of the show seem to want to keep Johnny both down and a dick. Once a dick always a dick I guess…at least in the psychologically stunted world of Cobra Kai. Johnny also seems trapped in high-school; blasting 90’s heavy meal music from his vintage sports car, mooning over his old fight trophies… I’m surprised he still doesn’t sleep with a picture of Elizabeth shue (ali) from the first Karate Kid under his pillow.

Strangely, after a tense initial meeting with Daniel, Johnny, in a moment of epiphany, suddenly decides to get revenge on his old nemesis by opening his own Karate School. I was confused by this plot-point.  Someone needs to explain to me how how opening a new karate Dojo punishes a guy who owns a successful car dealership. To my untrained eye they seem completely different consumer groups.

Anyhow, a rivalry between two karate obsessed teenagers seems acceptable.  As middle aged men, though, Daniel and Johnny “throwing down” just seem more like weekend warriors who picked karate over a good game of paintball. I think Both characters would be more credible waging battle over their colonoscopy results than by engage in a rousing karate fight.

Besides the two leads, I am not a big fan of the casting of Cobra Kai. Daniel’s wife is played by actress known for playing pampered/bossy roles such as “Claudia” on Mom Courtney Henggeler, and Daniel’s daughters read as generic teenagers who lack the pluck of the original movies. Also, for some inexplicable reason, the producers thought it was a good idea to cast Ed Asner as Johnny’s step dad. I guess they just lumped them both into the “Grumbly actor category” without taking Ed Asner’s distinguished emmy winning career into consideration.

Don’t get me wrong, Cobra Kai is more enjoyable vehicle than the movie sequels to the karate kid simply because it does not try and stray too far from its original template and it locks in the nostalgia factor by landing Macchio and Zabka to play their original roles. Karate Kid 2 was more of a okinawa based love story, karate Kid 3 was just a tired re-tread with a homicidal villian, Karate Kid 4 was a disaster set in a peaceful monastery and the remake with Jaden Smith, although spirited, seemed like a pale, color by numbers re-creation of the original which lacked the chemistry of Macchio and Morita.

Cobra Kai, although passable, is in desperate bad need of a Miyagi’s sage character to add gravitas and a moral compass to this otherwise testosterone-filled feud. Ralph Macchio, although a nice and amiable screen presence, never seems to be able to convey characters with any kind of intellectual depth. In short, he does not read like he’s very bright on the screen. so, to me, it is more effective when Macchio has a sensei who can provide him with a strategy and game-plan. Otherwise, he’s just some likable doofus who knows some fancy karate moves.

In the end result, although I enjoyed seeing Macchio and Zabka mix it up a little, I don’t think I was tempted enough to plunk down the $10 a month fee to invest in a month subscription to YouTube Red.  To me, that would just be rehashing the past.

Levitt Revisits HBO’s Crashing (Season 2) (A-)

crashing

When I first reviewed Crashing, I admired the show for its intimate nutty look at the day to day of the average struggling comedian but  found the show’s central figure, Peter Holmes too bland and upright in a NYC Comedy Scene often plagued with sketchy characters, drunks, and self-destructive narcissists. But this season they seemed to have taken my advice. They mellowed Pete’s character a little.  Got him laid.  lightened him up and made him more of an active agent in his own life.

Pete’s still the most square, awkward person in any room. His stand-up is self-deprecating and genuine.  since club comics on these types of shows are often depicted as disgruntled cast-offs who resent and disdain their audiences,  I find it refreshing, for once, to see a comedian who doesn’t  want to secretly murder his audience. Pete’s not smarting from some career set-back or some personal pain.  He’s not particularly angry at anything.  Honestly, he seems to just want to make people laugh. To belong.

Crashing is also experimenting with is own form.  One particularly effecting episode, “The Athiest” has Pete talking religion and philosophy with guest star, Magician Penn Jillette.  in a casual, five minute conversation Jillette has Pete questioning his own faith in Christianity and willing to, however briefly, let his hair down and test his boundaries. Wow, Who knew Penn Gillette could get so deep? Sure,  Raymond Teller… Now, Teller is a an endless fountain of philosophy… but Jillette?!!!

pete and penn

One of the shows best strengths is its ability to realistically show how friendships between comedians are forged on the road.  Pete’s younger, “innocent brother” type seems to be catnip for comedians like Artie Lange or Bill Burr who quickly take Pete under their wing and try to snap Pete out of his earnest naivete.  This season also has Pete finally acquire a normal romantic/friendship with a female comedian, Ally who is winningly played by Comedian Jamie Lee. She’s a  struggling comic trying to piece together enough good footage a demo reel. Pete and Jamie’s relationship is as giggly and cringingly real and awkward as any new relationship. I hope they stay together for a while.  So far their relationship seems the warmest and un-pretentious on television.

duo

Less successful, however, is the show’s reliance on the stereotype of the nasty comedy club owner.  Inevitably, these people are always portrayed as profit-motivated dicks. Once in a while, it might be okay for a club owner to be nice and actually try to encourage and mentor talent.  I don’t think they would be breaking any Union Rules.

Another small weakness of the show is the actual comedy sets. It seems that whenever I see an autobiographical movie about a stand up,  it seems like the writers always half-ass the actual bits.  Pete’s forced bits about Roach Spray or how he physically resembles a dorky guy at a barbecue don’t seem the kind of stuff to set the comedy world on fire.  Its like the comedians don’t want to part with any of the real gems of their acts for fear that, if “Crashing” gets cancelled or their characters get the boot, they won’t have anything left when they go back out on the road.

Ultimately, I’m happy I stuck with Crashing. Now, I look forward to watching it every week and having it as my stable Sunday Gig.  If you haven’t checked it out yet, give it a shot.  Sundays, 10:30 HBO.

Here’s my original, first review of “Crashing” :    https://wp.me/p6Hm24-T0

 

 

 

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Levitt’s Review Of “I’m Dying Up Here” (A-) (Showtime, Sunday, 10-11 PM E.)

dying

When I began watching Showtimes, “I’m dying Up Here” I thought the tone of a show about comedians too despairing and similar  to the Tom Hanks/Sally Field film, “Punchline”. In Punchline, the impulse to do stand-up seemed more like a curse than a freedom.  The comedians were sufferers; unable to lead a normal life because they were addicted to the rush of performing. Too many times in these kinds of true-to life shows about comedians are depicted  comedians as only “on” when hit the stage and then, post-performance; collapsing in some sort of destructive/drunken cocoon in the corner.

The success of “I’m Dying Up Here”, though is that it successfully shows the comedians have three dimensional lives on and offstage. When not performing, There are numerous exchanges where each comic is just standing around shooting the shit and being normal knuckle-heads.  Other shows about comics also fall lazily into familiar templates; comedian as detached funny commentator (Gaffigan) or being a bottom-rung comedic pee-on (“Crashing”).  “Dying”, instead, presents a solid close-knit band of “working” comedians.  There are no break-out performers (save for the occasional visiting celeb or A-Lister).  By in large, each comedian is a-work-in-progress, honing their craft, and- aside from the inevitable jealousies- generally supportive of each-others success.

The show is full of talented real-life comedians and actors.  A stand out in the cast for me is the club owner, Goldie Herschlag  (Melissa Leo) who resists the greedy/grumbly stereotype and, though thick-skinned maintains a good. mature working relationship with her comics and a sporting interest in their careers. As the series progresses, it will be good to see more of her personal life take center stage…she might even get the itch to pick up the mic.

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I also like the fire-cracker energy of Adam Proteau ( R.J. Cyler)  He is not as guarded as his contemporaries and has more raw vital presence on the stage and is interesting to watch and set him apart from the other comics.rj

 

Finally, Cassie Feder (Ari Graynor) shines as the show’s only female comedian.  The show’s writers do not make her cast as a typical salty/sassy Joan Rivers or Bette Midler over-sexed clone.  In fact, she disdains stock material in favor of a richer, more personal and confessional brand of humor that should yield rich dividends later on.

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So far, in my review of “Dying”, I haven’t mentioned that the show is set in the 70s and that is, in large part, because I really don’t find the time frame to be that relevant to the show’s atmosphere.  The show is cast in the 70s because that’s when stand-up was king.  If people wanted to see comedy, they had to leave their homes to see the likes of Pryor or Carlin since there was no cable/internet outlets.  I think a strength of the show is that it doesn’t beat you over the head with 70s references or slang that takes you of the action. The 70’s setting is just atmosphere, man!

One of the show’s few negatives for me is the heavy-handed backstories.  The writers of “Dying” can’t seem to resist the temptation to make each comic the product of a bad home life.  Every comedian’s dad apparently drank too much and beat them up. Yipes, I wouldn’t want to be stuck in the audience at Caroline’s on Father’s Day ! Thankfully, though, the back-stories take a back-seat to the rich and realistic stand-up and the tight-knit relationships of the comedians.

Now that I’ve given this show a pretty great review, I thought I would temper my analysis with a little reality.

Although the writing and acting are first-rate, Here is why I feel the show might get cancelled.

cancelled

 

 

Nobody On “Dying” is a Zombie, vampire, or otherwise living-challenged Individual

By comedian standards these guys are relatively normal earth-bound dudes.  nobody is drug-addicted (at least not violently so, sticking up a 7/11 at 2 in the morning to get enough money for “blow”).

The Lead actress is not a sex-pot-  Though attractive and talented, the lead actress is more interested in her career, than trying out out experimental, cinematically pleasing sex positions.

Nobody gets wacked every week–  Shows like Sopranos, True Blood, and Boardwalk Empire tended to like to sacrifice a different character every week to keep everyone interested and guessing.  Stand-up comedy,  although competitive,  is not exactly a blood sport.

Nobody is mentioning Trump or politics- Trump and political commentary are hogging the airwaves this summer with all the Russian/collusion shenanigans.  To me, my interest in Russia really peaked with Rocky 4.  But, This show with its occasional references to news or pop culture, (Billie Jean King V Bobby Riggs anyone?) seems miles away from being topical.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winning 1pg SHORT Script Reading of THE PARK PERVERT, by Mark Levitt

Los Angeles feedback film festival

Genre: Comedy

Public leering, sexual harassment, not just another day in the park.

CAST LIST:

Narrator: Elizabeth Rose Morriss
Sal: Hugh Ritchie
Karen: Ariel Brooker
Syrus: Geoff Mays
Karen: Ariel Brooker

Get to know the writer:

What is your screenplay about?

Its about cover-ups, deception, and lust

What genres does your screenplay fall under?

Comedy and drama

Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?

Because it doesn’t have super-heroes and an inflated budget so it will make all its money back.

How would you describe this script in two words?

Pervy ethics

What movie have you seen the most times in your life?

Shawshank Redemption…Get busy living, or get busy watching Shawshank, that’s damn right!

How long have you been working on this screenplay?

On and off, through a couple of versions, iterations, for a few years

How many stories have you written?

Over 80

What is your…

View original post 162 more words

Levitt Reviews HBO’s “Crashing” (B)

crashing

HBO has a penchant for introducing shows with juicy premises (Hung-The life of a gigilo) (Big Love- Bigamy) yet killing the fun by casting a bland, moralistic protagonist which strips the shows of much of their edge or escapist appeal. “Crashing” continues this tradition with the most milquetoast New York comedian I have ever seen.

Pete Holmes is an earnest christian who, it seems, just woke up one day with the notion to try stand-up comedy.  Most stand-ups, while not traditionally attractive per se, do have or at least try and cultivate a distinctive look/stage persona to either stand our or relate to their audiences.  Physically, Pete Holmes (Played by Pete Benedict) resembles an amorphous, pudgy mix of Ray Romano and Thirty Rock’s Jack Mcbrayer and dresses like your average middle-school gym teacher.

Holmes also lacks the often shifty/restless comedic energy present in many New York Comics. Pete’s face reads complacency or resignation. Not the most compelling qualities for a stand-up.  Furthermore, he’s a practicing Christian so he naturally and enthusiastically eschews many of the trappings (alcohol, drugs, easy sex) which many comics wear like badges in their acts and mine for material. In essence, he’s a bland wet blanket. If the show continues to want to keep Pete “Pure”, I think it would be a good idea to at least add a couple of idiosyncratic vices to keep his character interesting. By interesting, I don’t mean to make Pete collect the occasional Plush animals or have a sweet-tooth for salt-water taffy.  Give him a nasty little internet porn addiction or something!

The quality of Pete’s stand-up material is predictably pretty bad ( consisting mainly of either under-ripe or overly labored “Observations”) but, then again, the jokes in movies/shows about stand-ups are always bad.  Its like writers are unwilling to have the comedian deliver their “A level “material for fear of piracy, or the material is so censored/PC to make it digestible for middle-america or the stray 12 year old who checks out the show.

I also am not crazy about the character of “Jess ” (Pete’s Wife).  Pete catches Jess in bed with another man in the first episode. To me,  Lauren Lapkus,  The actress cast as his cuckolding wife, doesn’t even manifest like she enjoys sex.  Her demeanor is too sweet and helpful. Rather than proudly cheating on her husband, Jill looks like a woman who sells jams at the local farmers market. As a side note, I like how the name of the guy Jess is screwing is named “Leif”.  In sitcoms and movies, women always have affairs with guys with exotic names, “Paco” or “Leif”.  You almost never catch your wife in bed with someone named, “Bill”.

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Whereas the central character of the show is underwhelming, I do enjoy the featured guest comedians: Artie Lange, T.J. Miller, and Sarah Silverman as well as several cameos by noted New York Comedians.   The comics who guest are encouraged to play their nutty selves on the show and their dialogue seems real and not overloaded by “bits”. In fact, one of the cool perks of the show is discovering crazy windows into the worlds of the guest comedians: sarah Silverman runs a boarding house and collects comedians)  T.J. Miller collects clocks which are all set to the wrong time, Artie Lange needs the bathroom door open when he takes a dump.  Sure, it stretches the bonds of credibility that every comic Pete meets wants to adopt/befriend the boring Naive Pete. But, it does also “humanize” the guest comics more by showing their generosity to their comic countrymen.

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I’m sure George Carlin didn’t just spontaneously erupt into his famous, “Seven Words You Can’t Say On TV” Monologue during his very first open mike appearance. But, sadly Most shows/movies about the life of stand-ups skip the  early “breaking-in period” like most people want to quickly gloss over their first awkward/brief sexual encounter. But I like that “Crashing” openly embraces the freshman comic and bottom rungs of the club circuit.  There are, for instance, numerous scenes of “barking” ( Ray hands out pamphlets in exchange for stage time), crashes at fellow comics houses, and plays to empty houses.  More bios of comedians should tackle this early period for it helps inform their persona, passion, and career longevity.

In time, I hope the show relaxes Pete’s uptight image and, while keeping him essentially a good guy, lets him explore and indulge in a comic’s sketchy lifestyle with gusto.  If he lets himself go, I think his character and plot-lines will more vividly capture the comedian’s lifestyle. Who knows, he might even get laid.

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