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HBO's Crashing: a "small" comedy that measures up


Crashing’s Pete Holmes (right) & guest star Artie Lange. HBO photo

Premiering: Sunday, Feb. 19th at 9:30 p.m. (central) on HBO
Starring: Pete Holmes, Lauren Lapkus, George Basil
Produced by: Judd Apatow, Pete Holmes, Dave Rath, Josh Church, Igor Srubshchik

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A fairly gainful comic in real life, Pete Holmes plays himself in sad sack mode as the star of HBO’s Crashing.

His pathetic strivings are made even more so when his erstwhile supportive wife, Jess (Lauren Lapkus), decides to junk him and take up with a cosmic, tattooed dude named Leif (George Basil). Still, Pete’s a haplessly optimistic gamer who can take a knockdown punch. And as Crashing evolves (HBO made the first six episodes available for review), he grows in appeal as a babe in the New York City jungle who ends up depending on the kindness of fellow, far more successful stand ups.

Judd Apatow, principal co-executive producer of the series along with Holmes, has also teamed with Lena Dunham for Girls’, which now is nearing the end of its long HBO run. The two comedies are paired on Sundays from 9 to 10 p.m. (central), with Crashing a gentle lamb compared to all the attendant on- and off-camera drama that’s surrounded Girls from the start.

The premiere episode finds Jess urging Pete to have more inventive and spontaneous sex with her. But the product of a Christian school and rigid but loving parents cannot bring himself to take a sexual position that pairs the numbers six and nine.

“I don’t like doing two things at once,” Pete protests, comparing it to “playing the banjo while riding a bicycle.” Besides, he has to run off to the city again for a chance to do a few minutes of standup at a crummy comedy club that doesn’t pay him but does enforce a two-drink minimum whether you’re onstage or in the sparse audience. Pete’s livin’ the dream, though, while his employed wife pays the bills. But the title Crashing soon will have a double-meaning, neither of them in the cuckolded Pete’s favor. His life has crash-landed and he’s crashing in various apartments inhabited by comedians playing themselves.

Super slovenly Artie Lange is Pete’s first ad hoc benefactor, followed by T.J. Miller, a batch of fellow unknown stand ups and, in Episode 6, Sarah Silverman. This is also where Pete’s running-in-place “career” finally catches a break after a dispiriting and payless stint as a leaflet-distributing “barker.” Lure five patrons to Manhattan’s struggling and ill-named Boston comedy club (mostly with phony come-ons about big stars showing up) and get a few minutes onstage in return.

Pete’s comedy is “clean” and still very formative. But it’s not without a good riff or two. He’s greeted with a few, face-saving titters in Episode 1, (from a “crowd” of perhaps 10) after wondering what the employee discount might be at The Dollar Store. “You think it’s just ‘Take it?’ “

In Episode 4, a “barking” Pete scores with a throwaway line: “There’s no good way to tell people you haven’t seen The Wire.” Episode 5, the strongest so far, is built around Pete still trying to keep the split-up a secret from his parents, with Jess playing along for a while when they visit the city to celebrate mom’s birthday.

Crashing has enough mostly gentle amusements to keep it on track. And it’s increasingly easy to get on Pete’s side. He’s possibly more unbreakable than even Netflix’s sun shiny Kimmy Schmidt. Is he going to make it after all? The closing scene in Episode 6 marks a small victory in that direction. But for Pete, it’s like climbing a mountain. One can feel his immense relief -- and also enjoy sharing it.


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