With ‘Bupkis’, Pete Davidson Re-Petes Himself to Diminishing Returns: TV Review

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“Your life is fascinating,” a friend tells comedian Pete Davidson, in character as comedian Pete Davidson. “I don’t know what it’s like to live it, but goddamn, do we have fun watching it.”

It’s never a good sign when we have to be told, rather than shown, how interesting a person or project is meant to be. Yet that’s precisely the position in which “Bupkis” decides to put itself. The Peacock comedy is the second Davidson vehicle to draw heavily from the “Saturday Night Live” alum’s autobiography, after “The King of Staten Island” in 2020. In the style of director Judd Apatow, that feature film was already bloated; “Bupkis” takes the movie’s two-and-a-half-hour tale and stretches it out for another four, to diminishing returns.

“The King of Staten Island” and “Bupkis” share a protagonist, played by Davidson: a habitual stoner from New York’s least glamorous borough who lost his father, a firefighter, at a young age. “The King of Staten Island” coats this true-to-life premise in a thin veneer of fiction, casting Davidson as an aspiring tattoo artist named Scott. “Bupkis,” by contrast, drops the act. Its hero isn’t a Pete Davidson type but the actual Pete Davidson: a celebrity who has an entourage, dates A-listers, and yes, made a movie about himself. “Marisa Tomei played me!” crows his mother, now played by Edie Falco — an equally high honor.

Working with showrunner Judah Miller, Davidson reteams with “King of Staten Island” co-writer Dave Sirus to dramatize his highly public exploits, though every episode opens with a disclaimer reminding us that “certain parts” of the show have been invented “solely for dramatic purposes.” Davidson and his posse probably didn’t get into a “Fast & Furious”-style car chase on the way to the birthday party of Vin Diesel’s daughter; legendary actor Joe Pesci definitely isn’t his grandfather, though the role marks Pesci’s first as a series regular since the forgotten NBC series “Half Nelson,” five years before “Goodfellas.” But like countless comedians over the past decade, Davidson is trying to fuse art and life, comedy and drama, real and surreal.

This makes “Bupkis” a rehash not just of Davidson’s prior work, but of a cottage industry of shows
that channel a comic’s persona into glossy narrative. The influence of Louis CK’s pre-#MeToo “Louie” looms large here; currently on FX, there’s “Dave,” which shares with “Bupkis” an affinity for jokes about its hero’s genitalia. Stunt casting aside, though — cameos include Al Gore and Machine Gun Kelly, both playing themselves — “Bupkis” does little to distinguish itself from a crowded field. The season starts as a “Curb Your Enthusiasm”-style sitcom until an attempted infusion of pathos falls flat. Pesci gets shockingly little to do besides give Davidson shit and cause ambient anxiety with his character’s cancer diagnosis. Davidson’s mother, sister and ex-girlfriend all complain Pete takes them for granted and treats them like props, which only highlights how the show does the same.

“Bupkis” starts from the assumption viewers are dying to know what it’s like to have been famous since before you could legally drink and count Ariana Grande among your former flames. Yet what it reveals is hardly a surprise: an affable guy who’s not great at impulse control but coasts on self-deprecating charm. The series can come alive in specific details, like a flashback episode set at a family wedding Davidson attended just weeks after his father died responding to the World Trade Center attacks in 2001. For the most part, though, “Bupkis” makes the life of a star look as predictable as the show insists it’s exciting.

All eight episodes of “Bupkis” will premiere on Peacock on Thursday, May 4th.

With ‘Bupkis’, Pete Davidson Re-Petes Himself to Diminishing Returns: TV Review

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