In recent years, HBO has made a concerted effort to expand its comedy offerings. With series like “Veep,” “Ballers” and “Silicon Valley,” the network has attempted to establish itself as more than just “Game of Thrones.” Following the premiere of its new Judd Apatow-produced (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin”) comedy “Crashing,” HBO should be able to add another hit to its growing lineup. Despite its familiar premise, “Crashing” is expertly cast and scored, and contains an enjoyable brand of dark, self-deprecating humor that audiences can appreciate.
Created by rising comedic star Pete Holmes (“The Pete Holmes Show”), the series centers on Holmes’ fictional life as a middling comedian struggling to navigate the New York City comedy club scene. After leaving his wife, the hilarious Lauren Lapkus (“Jurassic World”), Holmes finds himself on the street, where a chance encounter with a washed-up Artie Lange (“Howard Stern on Demand”) results in his getting a new mentor. Along with Lange, the show features appearances from a number of prominent comedians, including the perpetually-cynical T.J. Miller (“Deadpool”) and anointed “RoastMaster General” Jeff Ross (“Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen”).
For “Crashing,” its success is largely due to its talented core of comedic veterans. Each cast member occupies their own comedic niche, and their chemistry together shines through from the series’ initial scenes. Holmes is brilliant as a naïve, optimistic comedian attempting to break into an industry infamous for its sardonic wit. Despite her relatively minor part, Lapkus distinguishes herself with her blunt, biting style of humor. Lange is similarly solid within his role as a burnt-out comedian who never misses an opportunity to mock his own situation. As brief as his appearances are, Miller excels at delivering his trademark style of brash, juvenile humor. In a particularly hilarious scene, Miller becomes upset with Lange and begins an all-out verbal assault on his outfit, telling him: “You look like you work for a homeless person. Are you interning on skid row? What cargo are you carrying in cargo pants? Are you carrying nostalgia for the ’90s?”
Along with its cast, “Crashing” benefits from the strength of its soundtrack. Featuring acclaimed soul-men Charles Bradley and Leon Bridges, the show uses its score to emphasize the melancholic aspects of Holmes’ life — he’s left his wife and continues to struggle to establish himself as a comedian. The songs are chosen well to coincide with more depressing scenes, but they remain confined to the series’ background to not disrupt the show’s overall lighthearted mood.
Outside of its soundtrack, “Crashing” suffers from its relatively weak storyline and, at times, narrow type of humor that is constantly repeated. The show opens with the rather trite plot line of Holmes coming home early one day to discover his wife’s infidelity firsthand, before immediately leaving her. This narrative is not only overused but also hastily executed, with the series glossing over Holmes’ wife’s affair and largely ignoring the storyline after the show’s premiere episode. “Crashing” is further hurt by the fact that its writing is unbalanced and, in several instances, relies too heavily upon the nature of Holmes’ life as its sole style of humor. The series elects to mold many of its jokes around this idea, and, while sometimes funny, these gags become repetitive and leave audiences questioning the extent of the show’s comedic range.
Despite its occasionally weak writing, the series remains entertaining and produces a stream of laughs. Viewers can’t help but enjoy Holmes’ naiveté juxtaposed with Lange’s no-holds-barred approach that produces a show replete with quality gags. In “Crashing,” Holmes has succeeded in capitalizing on the show’s star-studded cast to develop a program that has terrific dark humor, and it’s pure fun to follow along.
“Crashing” will premiere on HBO Sunday, Feb. 19.