Crashing has already demonstrated that it’s a much better show when it focuses on the comedy world rather than on Pete’s personal life. Last week’s episode was the best to date, solely because it was a highly specific look at the club circuit — how young comics break into rigid systems, and what it actually looks like to pay one’s dues. This week’s episode, “Parents,” returns yet again to Pete’s relationship with his ex-wife Jess, and though I initially wasn’t looking forward to that, it turned out to be a gentle, yet fairly unsparing examination of closure. It focuses on the leap of faith it takes to sever a relationship, and the difficulty of no longer recognizing a loved one.
In the episode, Pete begs Jess to go to dinner with his parents while they’re in town because he hasn’t told them about their divorce. Though Jess doesn’t particularly enjoy the company of Pete’s parents — especially his creepily affectionate relationship with his mother — she agrees anyway. Before they meet the parents, Pete and Jess drink in a bar to loosen up, but the spark between them has all but permanently disappeared. They engage in clipped conversation. They fret about their impending dinner. Jess doesn’t like that Pete hasn’t told his parents that they’ve split. Pete swears he will tell them when he’s ready. Jess knows there’s no good time for bad news.
It only gets worse when they meet Pete’s mother (Audrie Neenan) and father (Fred Applegate), who turn out to be just as smothering and blind to ugly realities as expected. Pete regresses around them, turning into a doting son who only wants to make his parents proud, while Jess drinks and stirs the pot any chance she can get. When Pete’s mom passive-aggressively brings up the fact that Jess isn’t wearing the “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelet that she gave her, Jess initially passes it off, only for Pete’s mom to push further. “You know what Jesus would do? I think he would wear the bracelet,” she says. Jess responds, with just the right amount of malice, “Wouldn’t it say, ‘What would I do?’ And wouldn’t he know?”
Eventually, Jess spills the beans after both she and Pete spin a convoluted series of lies involving international travel and the holidays, which neither can hold together. She tells her ex’s parents that they’ve split up, she’s with someone else, and Pete’s relationship with his mother is unnatural. Naturally, this sends shockwaves throughout the family, and Jess’s tact in the situation leaves much to be desired, but she’s not wrong. Sure, she’s high and she takes some liberties with her actions, but she also knows when Pete won’t step up and actually deliver bad news when it’s needed. Jess wants to experience new things — she doesn’t want to be tied down by a puritanical life that doesn’t mean anything to her anymore. Though episode writers Pete Holmes and Judah Miller paint Jess as a little too unsympathetic in these scenes — especially when she parrots nonsense hippie logic — they rightfully take her feelings seriously and don’t hold Pete to an unstable victim status.
Pete, on the other hand, faces a whole new set of difficulties with his parents. They try to tell him that they wanted him to marry a Christian woman because these complications wouldn’t have come up. His mother fails to understand the reality of the situation and insists that her son keep trying to repair the relationship, even though Pete knows there’s nothing to fix. His marriage was supposed to be part of God’s plan, but instead he’s just adrift. After Pete leaves in a huff, his father follows him out of the hotel lounge and into the lobby to calm him down, expressing mild interest in his work and then confessing that he was previously married. Pete’s father — a typically stoic, withdrawn Midwesterner — knows what he’s going through, yet he can still only hint at it when he’s confessing. It’s ultimately Pete who must comfort his father during this difficult time.
The best scene of the episode comes when Pete’s parents suddenly arrive at his late-night set to see him perform. At first, they watch blue comedian Jason Weber (Dov Davidoff) do a long, dirty bit that culminates in him slapping a pantomime dick on the stool — easily the most uncomfortable scene in the series so far. Then they see Pete’s clean, self-deprecating brand of comedy, and although the scene could have set up a reconciliation of sorts, Crashing doesn’t give us the pleasure. When Pete checks in with his parents after his set, his mother first provides some honest criticism involving his point of view onstage. She feels, rightfully so, that he relies on observational comedy to hide his actual persona from the audience — unlike Jason, who puts his whole being onstage, uncouth though it may be. When Pete pushes back, his mother then falls back on parental worries: this isn’t a normal way to make a living, what will he do to survive, etc. It’s a nice, conflicted approach to parents finally seeing the creative fruits of their children’s labor. There’s legitimate engagement, then detached panic.
The episode ends with Pete and Jess grabbing a drink and sharing their first honest moment — not as a couple, but as two people who’ve known each other for years. Jess admits she cares about him and that she’s sorry he’s going through a rougher time. Pete admits he’s having fun being broke and not knowing what comes next. He misses doors, but that’s about it. Pete and Jess are finally on the same page. There’s no master plan, just the road ahead. Brace yourself.
• Jermaine Fowler makes a repeat appearance this week: He and Pete travel to a local grocery store and pig out on free samples as lunch — he has his cost of living down to $8 a day, just by eating mostly free food.
• When Pete suggests it’s sad that Katt Williams rides on a private jet, Fowler balks. “We ain’t shit yet. Katt Williams put in the work. He’s supposed to be on a private jet, smoking weed out of a crab leg, pressing the call button so the stewardess can give him a hand job while he watches Finding Nemo.”
• Pete has never gotten high. When he chastises Jess for doing so, she casually responds with, “It’s Blue Dream, Peter. It makes you a genius.”
• Though Pete’s “caution: falling rocks” bit is fairly solid, his mother’s right in saying that there isn’t enough substance for a comedy career: “Is that how you want to spend your life? Talking about road signs?”
• “Fuck that false puritanical bullshit. It’s not about that. God is everywhere, okay? God was in the restaurant when you were frenching your mom. He’s in the weed. He’s in everything.”