Pete Holmes and Judd Apatow team up on the new HBO series Crashing. We’re all in.
The latest entry in the Sad Standup Sitcom genre is actually pretty damn heartwarming
AQUARTER OF THE WAY through 2017, the year’s most groundbreaking television show is a half-hour, single-camera, premium cable sitcom starring a standup comedian as a fictionalized version of himself.
Before you scoff: yes, we’re aware that Curb Your Enthusiasm first hit the airwaves nearly two decades ago. Yes, we’re big fans of Louie, and yes, we’ve read all the same middling reviews of Maron, Lopez and Dice that you have. (Okay, we haven’t read anything about Dice.) This is not a new concept. It’s mostly an old, tired premise that’s been done to death by mostly old, tired personalities. We know this.
But Crashing, the HBO sitcom led by comedian Pete Holmes, is different, because Holmes is different. He’s not a cynical curmudgeon like Louis C.K. or Marc Maron, or a slick, post-fame charmer like George Lopez. Instead, Holmes represents something of an anomaly in the sneering world of modern comedy: he’s a pun-loving goofball (his latest special, Faces and Sounds, is highlighted by a joke that wonders why unicorns aren’t called “unihorns”) who is openly fascinated with spirituality — he was raised deeply Christian, and on his wildly popular podcast You Made It Weird, he spends as much time discussing the teachings of Be Here Now guru Ram Dass as he does riffing about singing chickens.
“The interesting thing about Pete is that he’s very positive,” says Judd Apatow, who executive produced Crashing. “So much of comedy is negative, it’s cynical, there’s a lot of complaining — and that’s what’s great about it. So it’s rare to find someone who can be hilarious while trying to be a good person.” On Crashing, Holmes takes that alternative perspective one step further. Loosely based on his actual life, the show opens with Holmes in a comfortable malaise: he’s young and married in the suburbs, living off his wife’s teacher salary while struggling to turn comedy into a viable career. By the end of the pilot, he’s lost everything — his marriage, his home, his dignity — and wanders the streets of New York painfully bombing in front of silent open-mic audiences and searching desperately for a place to sleep.
That last part is where the title comes into play: the show’s conceit, for lack of a better term, is its heavy use of guest stars. In the pilot, Artie Lange shows up to offer Pete his advice and his couch, and then sticks around through the second episode until TJ Miller tags in. Sarah Silverman shows up later in the season. None of these appearances seem forced, though — instead, they manage to reveal a side of the comedy scene we rarely get to see.
“It’s this group of misfits,” Holmes says of the real-life peers, Miller included, who took him in after his divorce. “A lot of comedians are a little bit debaucherous — they’re heavy drinkers or do drugs or see prostitutes or are promiscuous, whatever. But I was able to find that grace and love and support in an unlikely place.”
You might be wincing at how touchyfeely that all sounds, so allow us to remind you that this is still a Judd Apatow joint. Mining humour from pathos is what he does best, and there’s a steady stream of one-liners and set pieces to keep things aloft. Throw that in a blender with Holmes’ winning earnestness, you wind up with something entirely new: an offbeat show with outsized heart, one that’s unafraid to not just laugh in the face of overwhelming darkness, but look it in the eye, smile and shake its hand.