When Pete Holmes announced his engagement to his longtime girlfriend on Instagram three weeks ago, it may have prompted tears of joy from certain areas of his fanbase. A reaction more appropriate to, say, the engagement of a close cousin rather than one of a comedian you don’t know. But Holmes has his own candidness to thank for that. Like many comedians, Holmes’ podcast (You Made It Weird) has created a relationship with fans that feels more personal than one you have with someone you simply see on TV, but Holmes has been particularly forthcoming about his own personal history in painful detail. To fans of the podcast, who already know how many pumps it took Pete to lose his virginity, the story of how he married his first wife after graduating from a Christian college, moved to an NYC suburb to start pursuing comedy while his wife supported him, discovered she was having an affair, and eventually was able to use the painful divorce as the foundation for becoming his own man is as familiar as anything else about him. This means a) the idea that he was able to find his soulmate after all that is particularly touching for fans, and b) this is the perfect time to dive back in and tell Pete’s messy origin story.
Actually, that last part depends on who you are. There are bound to be some who find the idea of a now-famous comedian playing a struggling comedian annoying in the way that can sometimes be annoying, but I believe Holmes is a few steps ahead of that crowd. He has already talked a lot about how we tend to romanticize the most difficult chapters in our lives retrospectively, and Crashing already displays keen self-awareness and perspective in that regard. From its first episode, it resembles the best of a slim genre: Mike Birbiglia’s Sleepwalk With Me and Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child.
The building blocks of the story I previously described are all here. Holmes plays himself as he was more than a decade ago, a harmless golden retriever holding on to the relics and idealism of his religious upbringing. His wife Jess (Lauren Lapkus) is clearly dissatisfied. The pilot opens on the couple attempting to roughly “fuck on the floor” at Jess’ request, but Pete’s response (“I don’t want to bite your neck. You’re my best friend.”) tells us everything we need to know about Pete, Jess, and everything that’s about to go wrong in this relationship.
And indeed, we soon find out that while Pete has been driving down to the West Village to do open mics (a practice he naively compares to attending medical school), Jess has been shtupping a hairy art teacher named Leif (George Basil). Pete’s world is turned upside down, and while he does manage to get into hijinks with Artie Lange (playing himself as a cowardly weirdo, in a confident Larry Sanders move that reveals the guiding hand of executive producer Judd Apatow), his heart is broken, and he has been set on a path he soon realizes he can’t turn his back on.
If occasionally the first episode contorts itself to put Pete in the worst position possible (the ball-busting at the comedy club showed shades of Holmes’ tendency to admire the mafia-esque elements of stand-up comedy), it seems mostly necessary to start us off, and little moments and touches later elevate the half-hour to greatness. The “Love Makes a House a Home” design of Jess and Pete’s house is hysterical all by itself (there’s also a nod to Girls writer Bruce Eric Kaplan in a cartoon on the fridge). The fact that Pete is in his element most when discussing his favorite Inside Out character with kids on the subway puts Crashing’s pilot in the same boat with Silicon Valley’s and Girls’s: they’re all shows that are remarkably assured about the stories they need to tell.
On top of it all, Holmes proves himself to be a strong actor and an immensely likable leading man. He’s got that Richard Hendricks single-mindedness that allows us to believe he would give up everything he owns to a mugger but fight tooth and nail to keep his little black notebook of jokes. Unlike Richard Hendricks, he hasn’t done anything particularly great yet, but if we know Holmes, and if this first episode is any indication, he will.
Graham Techler is a New York-based writer and actor. Follow him at @grahamtechler.