Those who have listened to more than one Pete Holmes’ podcast (and I’m only a casual listener, because they are 2 hours long) probably already know his story, because he rarely goes an episode without recalling his past with a guest: He’s Christian. He married his childhood sweetheart. His wife cheated on him during the midst of his struggle to become a stand-up comedian. They divorced.
That experience clearly had a profound affect on Pete Holmes, who never misses an opportunity to bring it up. It seems to color his worldview, from his views on religion, to his dating experiences, to his stand-up comedy. That experience also forms the basis of the pilot episode for Holmes’ new HBO comedy, Crashing, which sees Pete Holmes playing “Pete,” a struggling stand-up comic who comes home early and catches his wife (Lauren Lapkus) cheating on him. Pete storms out, spends a strange night with Artie Lange (playing himself) — who takes Pete under his wing — and returns home to win back his wife only to find her sleeping with the same man again.
The fact that podcast listeners already know the broad strokes of Holmes’ story does not make the pilot any less likable, however. It’s not in the story; it’s in the telling, and Holmes delivers to his TV show the same thing he delivers to his podcast: A friendly but sometimes insecure personality often given to self-doubt, and amiable but rambling monologues. The pilot, directed by Judd Apatow (who also exec producers), brings a lot of Apatow’s sweeter sensibilities to the series: It’s a warm combination of heart and cynicism. Lange and Holmes make a terrific comedy duo: Holmes is a puppy dog constantly in search of dating and spiritual guidance, and Lange — a comic who is perhaps past his prime, but who is drawn to Holmes’ reverence of him — is all too willing to act as Holmes’ twisted mentor. They have excellent rapport together.
Lapkus — who plays Holmes’ wife — and her lover, Leif (played by better looking Kyle Mooney, George Basil) also add an interesting dynamic to the series, especially Leif, who wants to be friends with Pete, even as he bangs Pete’s wife. Leif has stepped into Pete’s life, but he thinks of it as a sort of favor, because it will push Pete to do better with his own life.
Crashing is low-key but likable, a sitcom that should ultimately appeal to comedy nerds who can empathize with Pete’s struggles as a stand-up comedian and take heart in his successes. As the series progresses, it will also surely get sidetracked by Holmes’ digressions on philosophy, religion, and dating, which is not necessarily a bad thing as long as the episodes remain under 30 minutes.