Photo: HBO

I want to get this out of the way right at the top—Crashing is good, so if you liked the premiere, you’re going to enjoy it. But if you didn’t like the premiere, give it a few more episodes to win you over. But this review is strictly about “Artie Lange,” the premiere episode of Pete Holmes’ new HBO comedy. The gist is that Holmes is basically playing “the 2007 version of [him]self,” as he told the TCA winter press tour audience back in January.

Holmes is a decently successful comedian now, but a decade ago, he was a struggling comic in New York, driving into the city every night to perform for free—or even having to pay a two-drink minimum in order to get stage time. It was about this time that his personal life pretty much imploded. In real life, Holmes got married at age 22 and divorced six years later, which all happened just about 10 years ago. In that way, his life is very much on display with Crashing, though specific events and characters have been changed or exaggerated—he’s not out to put his divorce from his wife on TV for all the world to see or something like that.

But this is where we find the fictional Pete Holmes, living in an NYC suburb, married to Jess (Lauren Lapkus) and coming home one day to find her having an affair with a crunchy guy named Leif (George Basil). Holmes spends the premiere episode in a bit of a tailspin, bombing at a club, getting his car towed, and having comedian Artie Lange advise him that he should patch things up with his wife—which is not terrible advice, at first.

Viewers aren’t given too much background into Pete and Jess’ relationship, but it is glaringly obvious that she’s been a bit neglected so Pete can focus on his career. That doesn’t mean it’s okay to cheat on him, but people do make mistakes and Pete wants to try to make it work. It’s not until Holmes’ second return home to find Jess in flagrante delicto with Leif that he realizes the marriage is past the point of no return, which leads him to reach out to Lange as a sort of lifeline, then ending up mugged and sleeping on Lange’s couch.

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And that’s pretty much what Crashing is. Holmes is going to have to work through the stages of grief for his former life, starting with some pretty serious denial about what’s going on—wait ’til episode three, which gets really good in that regard—while trying to make ends meet, since his wife was the family’s sole source of income. This is largely going to involve playing shitty clubs, barely scraping by and doing a lot of couch-hopping. It’s an amusing look at what it takes to become an established comedian, coming from the perspective of a rare bird in the world of comedy—a person open about his Christian faith who largely keeps his comedy act clean.

It’s not an easy thing to do, especially since bombing night after night is so demoralizing and also contributes to the low morale of having your wife leave you for a guy named Leif who wants to move her to Tampa. But Holmes is who he is and it truly does feel like nothing can beat that earnestness out of him, which is nice—like the hug you constantly want to give him.

Much like Holmes on stage, Crashing is working on finding itself. The premiere is solid and certainly has some strong humor at the expense of down-on-his-luck Holmes, but subsequent episodes get stronger and stronger.

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Stray observations

  • “You wanna 69?”
    “I don’t like doing two things at once. It’s like riding a bicycle while playing the banjo, it’s unnatural.”
  • “Like a wife supports a guy in medical school.”
    “You’re not in medical school!”
  • “What’s your medium, hand turkeys?!”
  • “Don’t listen to Greer, he looks like someone power-washed Don Cheadle.”
  • What was up with Holmes just standing there during the mugging? Seriously, dude—Artie Lange ran away, could you not follow suit? Run the other way or something! Sheesh.

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