That’s a deceptively simple question since in many ways “Crashing”‘s season two was a more satisfying, more consistent experience with an interesting arc (perpetual lost puppy Pete Holmes meets a razor-sharp, competitive female comic in a very realistic and twisty version of “Boy Meets Girl”), but I also found myself mysteriously sluggish in watching the new episodes.
For those that don’t know, “Crashing” follows good-natured goof Holmes during the disintegration of his personal life—his bread-winner wife cheats on him and leaves him for another man, leaving Pete essentially homeless and “crashing” on the couch of various other comics—and his struggles to break out in stand-up comedy. It’s a great excuse to once again pull back the curtain on “The Brotherhood of the Clowns,” that inside-baseball world of comics that everything from Marc Maron’s podcast to Jerry Seinfeld web series has riffed on. [By now, you may have watched enough Adam Carolla YouTube rants, Patton Oswalt specials, and Conan O’Brien episodes to feel like you’ve had a bad road show in a Connecticut casino or little-known NYC club.] How interested you are in “Crashing”—the best episodes usually tackle comedian-related topics like sidewalk “barking” or bad open mics or auditioning for colleges—will probably depend on your interest-level in that inside-comic world.
For their part, real-life comedians play themselves mostly how you imagine them to be. In season two alone: Bill Burr is aggressive and conservative, but mostly a loyal friend, whereas John Mulaney is dapper in an immaculately dressed suit but a raging asshole, hiding behind a faux-cordiality. Artie Lange returns as a bloated, drug-addicted, self-loathing, half-dead version of himself that may not be “a version,” but he takes Pete in when almost no one else will (in fact, all of the comedians Pete has stayed with are Artie’s friends Pete wouldn’t have met without him).
Ultimately, season two of “Crashing” fixes many of season one’s problems (for example, Pete’s horrible ex-wife is reduced from 5 full episodes to only 2 this season), but that doesn’t fundamentally change the equation that we’re watching a character with little self-respect make the same mistakes in an unforgiving world. For example, although Pete is free of his ex that’s brought him nothing but trouble since episode one, he still tries to befriend her, hang out, and even make a pass that—of course—she rejects. Similarly, he stumbles into a relationship with a female comedian that looks an awful lot like his ex, right down to the way she’s not entirely supportive of Pete’s desires to book bland college gigs. You might think she’d realize Pete is not exactly a “chooser,” humiliating himself by sleeping on the basement couch of his ex-wife’s lover is probably more difficult than doing smiley college campus comedy not that different from Pete’s regular stand-up.
This is a very realistic take on the world of comics, where Pete is constantly told “you’ll be funny in three years” even though he’s already been doing it for three years and needs to make money yesterday. But to me there’s always been something exploitative in continually asking aspiring stand-ups to “pay their dues” with never-ending years of unpaid gigs–or worse, open mics where they pay to get on stage–in the hopes they might get big enough to book a casino or campus one day. [The belligerent comedy club owner Pete slaves away for in hopes of a few minutes stage time each night is offended when Pete asks for a night off to see an alt-comedy show, but the same owner is openly envious and downright angry when one of his grown Oliver-Twist-orphans actually books an HBO gig.] If the show is truly realistic, it’ll take “Pete Holmes” several more years and seasons to actually break big in comedy, but “Crashing” viewers may have hung themselves by then. Grade for Season Two: B+ (basically the same grade for season one, which isn’t technically as good as this season but lays a good foundation for beginning comics)