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”.
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.
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.