'The Crew’: Same old sitcom, different streaming service

Monday, February 22, 2021 - 5:16pm

NOSELL

Netflix

“The Crew” has a simple enough premise. The comedy focuses on the struggles of a failing NASCAR team after their old boss quits and hands over the reins to his intelligent but abrasive daughter. Starring Kevin James (“The King of Queens”) as the typical male sitcom hero, this show plays on the tense dynamic between an old guard that misses the good ol’ days and new players who are trying to shake up the racing world. Despite being a fairly unique premise, it turns out that’s the most original aspect of the show. Nearly every element of Netflix’s “The Crew” borrows from old sitcom tropes, some ranging from mildly cringy to fairly problematic. 

Take, for example, the portrayal of male and female characters in the show. All the male characters introduced have been exclusively portrayed as bumbling idiots. In every scene he’s in, Kevin is consistently unaware of social cues and blurts out completely nonsensical things. On the other hand, all the female characters are portrayed as the exact opposite. Kevin’s coworker and will-they-won’t-they love interest Beth (Sarah Stiles, “Billions”) is extremely industrious, totally competent and socially aware. She isn’t the only one portrayed this way either: Every other female character, from the team’s new driver to the new boss, is the same level of go-getter, while the men hardly contribute at all — besides talking about hunting and the glory days of racing. 

From Frank of “Shameless” to Ross of “Friends,” portraying men as completely clueless and women as their perpetual babysitters is nothing new in sitcoms. Because it draws so much from previous shows, the gender dynamics are highly prevalent. Still, these stereotypical depictions of male and female behavior do real harm. Depicting women solely as caretakers and go-getters is an exhausting model for women to uphold. Depicting men as imbeciles scene after scene is an equally exhausting and lazy trope.

Besides the tired portrayal of men and women, the show borrows from other successful sitcoms. The main character of the show is nearly identical to every middle-aged male sitcom hero: He’s a reactionary yet lovable guy who constantly pines for his good ol’ days while complaining about everything new, from cauliflower rice to Instagram stories. You could pick up this character and drop him into any other character of the same age, and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. This uncanny resemblance isn’t just limited to the main character either. The team’s driver Jake (Freddie Stroma, “Bridgerton”), for example, is a classic young, cocky, good-looking yet completely incompetent man who crashes the team’s car on the very first day. 

Perhaps the comedy sitcom genre itself is a relic of a different time. Gone are the days of casual misogyny or naked abuse brushed off as a joke or a funny bit. Even new iterations of sitcom formulas just seem like obvious callbacks to older sitcoms that made exhaustive use of these horrible tropes. It is no surprise that sitcoms themselves are slowly fading out of popular appeal, with Millennials and Gen Z focusing on drama and fantasy rather than realistic comedies. Without a serious update to the sitcom formula, this genre of television probably will, and should, die. 

In truth, “The Crew” is a show devoid of any novelty or life. The characters, scenes and premise are all imitations of successful and problematic shows. These tired gender roles and other sitcom tropes obviously appeal to a much older audience than that of typical Netflix Originals, but it is still disappointing to see that a change from television to streaming service still means nothing new for sitcoms. Without serious novelty or any change to the comedy sitcom formula, it’s hard to see how a new generation of audiences can ever enjoy shows like this.

Daily Arts Writer Joshua Thomas can be reached at realjt@umich.edu


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