Pete Holmes has built his comedy career on being an awfully nice guy. He projects an air of decency; his standup comedy is genial — energetic and not necessarily self-deprecating (he’s no wimp) — with a nice sting of cultural awareness. Now Holmes has brought his image and his jokes to a sitcom, one he’s hatched with executive producer Judd Apatow, called Crashing, which will premiere Sunday night on HBO.
Holmes plays Pete, a New York comedian who’s trying to launch his career. In the first episode, his marriage falls apart when his wife is unfaithful. (I feel as though Pete is the kind of guy who’d say, “My wife was unfaithful,” rather than something more hostile or obscene.) He and Jess — played by Lauren Lapkus, a very funny actor on shows ranging from Jimmy Kimmel Live! to Orange Is the New Black —separate, and Pete finds himself almost aimless. The only thing that anchors his new life is standup comedy.
The marriage material in Crashing does not, alas, give Lapkus much more to do than act defensive and sullen. But the show brightens considerably when Pete starts pursuing his standup comedy dream in earnest. In need of places to crash during his post-marriage, pre-income stage, Holmes sleeps on the sofas of comedians whose styles are in stark contrast to Holmes’s — vulgar loudmouths like T.J. Miller (Silicon Valley) and Artie Lange. They play slightly exaggerated versions of their onstage personas, and their facile cynicism is meant to be a sharp contrast to our hero’s sunny disposition.
Merely by being cheerful and smiley, Pete is a welcome, different presence on our TV screens — but not so much in the comedy clubs he’s trying to break into. There, he strikes the jaded pros as a sappy innocent, which makes us like Pete all the more. Crashing has a nice, shaggy-dog-story rhythm to its plots, and the fifth episode — in which we meet Pete’s too-adoring mother (“I was only born to give birth to you”) — is a really funny standout. This is the kind of show that’s not going to make the big pop-culture impact of the series that precedes it — Girls — but it’s a worthy dispenser of pleasure.
Crashing airs Sunday at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.