Hit or Sh**: HBO’s CRASHING
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
Purity is a funny thing. On one hand, we’re told it’s important and something to be cherished, lest we ruin it forever. On the other, none of us can stand the Ned Flanders in our lives and there are few things we love more than watching them fall off of their respective high horses. Nobody understands this quite like Pete Holmes, a comedian who, by his own account, is a youth pastor in any alternate universe. Nice-ness and wholesomeness are built into Holmes’s DNA, which is exactly what makes him such a fascinating figure in stand-up comedy. It also makes CRASHING, his new series on HBO, so damn satisfying.
He’s the Cinnabon of funny people
For those not deep into the nitty-gritty of contemporary stand-up comedy, Holmes is the host of the enormously successful podcast YOU MADE IT WEIRD. On the podcast, he discusses comedy, psychedelics, love, and God with equal depth and levity, accompanied by some of comedy’s most influential figures. (Seriously, listen to his episode with Garry Shandling, it’ll give you the chills.) He’s a funny man, but also a deeply earnest person—a comedian with a disdain for sarcasm and laughs that come too easily or at the expense of another person. He’s great at fulfilling the modern expectation that comics bear their souls to their audience. If he were any more open, his spine would break. His brand of optimism is hard to argue with because he never seems to shut out the darkness, he only tries to wrap it up as thoroughly as possible with the light.
Or at least wrap himself up in a fat coke addict’s blanket
It’s so wonderfully fitting that he would be granted his own HBO show in order to essentially showcase himself, because Pete Holmes the character is an inherently interesting person. In CRASHING, he plays himself almost a decade ago, when he was unhappily married to his Christian college sweetheart and struggling to find his footing as a comic. This is what makes CRASHING unique among TV shows about comics. LOUIE, MARON, and their ilk are all about comedians after they’re successful, not comedians who have yet to make a name for themselves at all. (As the aggressive ad campaign for CRASHING has made very clear.) It sets up the series to be rich with dramatic conflict, as well as comedic heft.
Sometimes dramatic conflict looks like silly Youtube videos and regrettable interior design choices
Luckily, CRASHING capitalizes on its enormous potential tremendously well. In the pilot, Holmes catches his wife in an affair, bombs at an Open Mic trying to talk about it, and is consoled through the process by his more successful comedic buddy, Artie Lang. Lang is hysterical in this episode and manages to consistently bust Pete’s balls while simultaneously making it clear that he feels bad for him. It’s an artful depiction of how funny people relate to each other that never feels forced or overly sincere. There are deep, genuine laughs in almost every scene, and every scene feels as though it gets the job done and gets out. (No small feat for a production with Judd Apatow’s name on the masthead.) Much to the relief of any of Holmes’s fans, CRASHING starts on an inarguably strong note.
That being said, for the people like yours truly who listen to Holmes for three hours almost every week on his podcast, there may be minor disappointments. In the pilot at least, Holmes seems to skate over the very stickiest parts of his relationship with his ex-wife. The fact that he got married because his mom told him to isn’t brought up. The bizarre, STEPFORD WIVES purgatory he found himself in while living in in small town New York with a wife who didn’t love him is never the focus of the episode. It may be a personal gripe, but it seems Holmes missed out on an opportunity to capitalize on some of the most uncomfortable moments of his own life that we know exist. The pilot moves at a great pace as it aired, but a few more brief scenes establishing how miserable his marriage really was would have inevitably set up the rest of the series to feel that much more redemptive.
Sorry, buddy, I’m harsh because I love you
It’s also hard to pretend that this show will really be anyone’s priority if they’re not deep into comedy. As much fun as it was for my friends and I to see Big Jay Oakerson and Rachel Feinstein pop up in this episode, it’s hard to know if the average HBO subscriber will really be all that interested in watching another comedian make a show about himself. Even if comedies about comedy aren’t your cup of tea, however, there’s enough strong writing and clever performances here to make the show worth your time. So watch the great de-flowering of Pete Holmes, and witness him becoming an infinitely more tolerable person in the process.
CRASHING airs on Sundays on HBO