Pete Davidson’s New Meta Comedy Bupkis Is a Casual Charmer

TV Reviews Bupkis
Pete Davidson’s New Meta Comedy Bupkis Is a Casual Charmer

One wonders how many times a comedian/actor/writer can sell the same semi-autobiographical story successfully in a slightly different wrapping. But with Peacock’s latest 8-episode comedy series Bupkis, Pete Davidson is two for two so far. After 2020’s The King of Staten Island (which he co-wrote with Judd Apatow and Dave Sirus), the comedian doubles down on his “fictionalized” life in a meta approach that’s stuffed with Hollywood stars playing either one of his relatives or themselves. And in doing so, we’ll forever owe him for bringing back Joe Pesci (nearly four years after Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman) to play his foul-mouthed Italian-American grandpa, that’s for sure.

Bupkis‘ plot (again co-written with Davis Sirus as well as Judah Miller) is loosely defined with vague character arcs that barely classify as a continuous narrative, but are just enough to keep the ball rolling. We follow Davidson (apparently playing a “heightened” version of himself) in Staten Island, living with his mother (played by ex-Mrs. Soprano, a charming Edie Falco) who’s generally worried about him. Pete’s just doing what the Pete Davidsons of the world do on a regular basis: hanging out with his boys, smoking weed, jerking off, taking pills, and having fun in between gigs. His worry-free lifestyle is somewhat interrupted when he learns that his street-wise grandfather, Joe (Pesci), is dying of cancer. This unfolds in a heartfelt conversation between the two, where Joe says that all he wants is to spend more time with his grandson and get to know him better. This serves as a sort of wake-up call for Davidson to change his life, stop being a joke, and act like a man instead of a child.

From then on, every episode deals with different issues that Davidson is looking to change about himself. He fails more times than not, but the point is that he never stops trying, I guess. The range of topics Bupkis focuses on varies greatly. In Episode 2, we see him in a flashback as a child a week after his firefighter dad died on 9/11 at the towers (the most touching episode by far), grieving at his aunt’s wedding; in Episode 4, he and his entourage go absurdly berserk and pay homage to the Fast and Furious films (easily the most over-the-top and insane entry). You never know what’s coming next, and the show uses this unpredictability to its advantage. Throughout the eight episodes, Bupkis touches on delicate subjects like addiction, grief, depression, therapy, fame, and toxic internet culture. They never come across as too heavy, yet their seriousness and importance aren’t disregarded either. It’s a fine line, and the writers walk it confidently while keeping things light and easily digestible for the most part. It all works because Davidson has a keen understanding of drawing from his own experiences to dramatize them as both entertaining and meaningful at the same time.

Interestingly, though, it’s not the protagonist (and his problems) where the series excels the most—it’s the compelling supporting characters. Davidson serves as a sort of human catalyst, bringing the best out of the actors surrounding him. As his grandfather, Joe Pesci revives the type of Italian-American character we know and love him for; at 80, he still has that vibrant and aggressive charisma that electrifies the screen whenever he enters it. Pesci can still channel the shit-talking, chain-smoking, and likable wise guy that he romanticized for multiple smitten generations. In a similar fashion, Bobby Cannavale is an absolute triumph as Pete’s ridiculously handsome and cool uncle—a role the magnetic character actor has done to perfection over the years (frankly, he should have gotten more screen time). To be precise, the entire cast (which includes stars from Jon Stewart to Method Man to Steve Buscemi) is overqualified for their respective roles, yet none of them phone in their performances. Even the celebrities in the myriad of cameos deliver phenomenal acts, making sure you get an unforgettable thrill out of their guest appearance.

To that end, at one point I even considered Bupkis a deliberate homage to HBO’s classic comedy Entourage, because the amount of famous people who make appearances (from comedians to actors to horror icons) is simply bonkers. Davidson clearly called on his celebrity friends, who turn up in every other scene to deliver a funny line or two and then disappear. But as I said before, it all works because they genuinely seem to be having a lot of fun regardless of the (often insulting) script. If you’re a hardcore fan of comedy and pop culture in general, I guarantee you’ll have an awesome time with the name-checking.

Where the mostly fun ride gets a little bumpy is in the last third of the series. There’s a lack of direction towards the end of the season where Davidson’s character desperately seeks purpose without much success. Not having a real, tangible conflict, the writers heavy-handedly try to blame everything on Pete’s addiction and drug consumption that all of a sudden spirals out of control despite what we’ve seen early on (which was a pretty “minor” drug problem, considering his level of fame and personality). This issue feels a little abrupt and forced just so the show can tie up some loose ends and drift a narrative toward a tragic open-ended finale that paves the way for a potential Season 2. It’s not awful or unforgivable, but it does leave a sour taste after the wild and delightful journey we’ve been on up until that point.

Regardless, Bupkis in general nails a well-balanced mix of humor, self-awareness, and drama stemming from both reality and fiction, giving us a multi-flavored comedy that goes down easy.

All episodes of Bupkis premiere on Thursday, May 4th on Peacock.

Akos Peterbencze is an entertainment writer based in London. He covers film and TV regularly on Looper, and his work has also been published in Humungus, Slant Magazine, and Certified Forgotten. Akos is a Rustin Cohle aficionado and believes that the first season of True Detective is a masterpiece. You can find him talk about all-things pop culture on Twitter (@akospeterbencze) and Substack (@akospeterbencze). 

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