Photo: HBO

Pete Holmes has definitely been in need of a win on Crashing, especially coming off last week’s episode, which was great for viewers because it provided a nice mix of emotional beats and comedic moments, but was not as nice for Holmes’ character because it brought his marriage to its final end. He has now been fully kicked out into the world on his own, still trying to make it as a comic in New York City.

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Luckily, in “Barking,” he finds some new friends—or at least a set of single-serving friends who temporarily help him feel less alone. It’s also the first episode where we really get a good, hard look at what it’s like to be a struggling comedian. We’ve had glimpses before on the show, but “Barking” focuses in on what it’s like trying to get stage time… and wow, does it look like a soul-crushing process.

Basically, Pete can either pay for stage time in the form of having to buy two items at the comedy club where he wants to perform or he can “bark,” which means hand out fliers for a club for free. If he gets five paying customers in the door with his fliers, he gets to go on stage.

Naturally, Pete is terrible at this, because being a carnival barker on a street corner makes him wildly uncomfortable, especially since the hook they’re supposed to use is make it sound like famous comedians—Chris Rock, Ray Romano, Jerry Seinfeld—are performing at the club that night, even though they aren’t. “Regular Christian” Pete has a problem with the lying, though even if he weren’t lying, he’s still terrible at barking.

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It’s very telling that his best interaction of the night (the one that proves the most fruitful) is when he’s just being a relaxed, nice guy, giving directions to some drunk businessmen and riffing a bit on their love of jazz. Because that’s who Pete is, and he’s the funniest when he’s just being himself.

So it’s immensely satisfying when the drunk businessmen finish up at their jazz club and wander into the comedy club while Pete is on stage. Not only did he bring in a decent little crowd, but we finally get to see his potential as a comedian. When he relaxes and has a receptive audience to play off of, he’s not half bad.

He’s not great, either. But the idea here is that he’s still figuring out how to do stand-up. He can’t just magically be awesome at it. But we’ll take the small win.

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This is also a great launching point for Act II of the season arc. The door has closed on Pete’s awful home life drama, so now it’s time to drill down on the struggling comic aspect. Presumably he won’t get a win every night, but this one feels earned and is also a small enough win to feel realistic. And it’s enough of a high point that when Pete inevitably comes crashing back down, at least he hasn’t been taking it solely on the chin the entire time.

Stray observations

  • Love, love, love Jermaine Fowler, Henry Zebrowski and Aparna Nancherla as Pete’s Boston Comedy Club friends. They’re the perfect mix of cynical but still keeping hope alive of realizing their dreams as comedians. They also have a wonderful, easy camaraderie together. Pete doesn’t quite fit in with them yet, but here’s hoping they stick around a little and maybe become his support system.
  • “I’m not Mormon, I’m just regular. Regular Christian. No add-ons. Just old and new. Meat and potatoes.”
  • “You’re like a mental patient that’s been released for the afternoon.”
  • “There’s no good way to tell people you haven’t seen The Wire.” Amen, brother. Try being a TV critic with a secret TV shame—we all have one. I’m not speaking specifically of The Wire, but we all have some bastion of TV greatness that we somehow missed and now can’t tell people we’ve never seen. I feel you, Pete Holmes.

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