The second episode of Crashing picks up right where the pilot left off: Pete, homeless and facing an uncertain future, wakes up on Artie Lange’s couch. His car has been impounded. He doesn’t even have money for food at a bodega buffet because his wallet was stolen. Things aren’t looking up for this positive-focused wannabe comedian. That is, until Artie asks him to get his car and drive him up to Albany, where he’s tasked to do two things: emcee a benefit at a comedy club that features fellow comic T.J. Miller, and make sure Artie stays sober because his crowds are wont to ply him with alcohol and drugs.
“The Road” is a fine substitute for the pilot insofar as it accomplishes the exact same goals, but in a different setting. It reintroduces the Pete Holmes “Actual Nice Guy” persona, mainly by playing him off louder, more outlandish personalities. It reiterates the series’ central plot — amateur comic has to lose everything in order to gain anything — by reframing the episode’s situation. Finally, it reexamines the show’s world of open mics and dingy comedy clubs, an environment where Holmes stands in direct contrast to, well, everything.
Crashing succeeds the most on that last front. The middle part of “The Road” is mostly spent in the comedy club, and it’s where credited writers Holmes and Oren Brimer really show off their intimate knowledge of those spaces filled with boozy, loose lips and a faint aroma of desperation. As Pete tries and fails to convince the club waitress to not put alcohol in the green room — “It’s literally my job to make sure there’s booze in the green room,” she replies — Artie and Miller fight over how much time they’re going to do, while exchanging insults about their respective appearance. When they finally get onstage, Miller and Artie naturally kill, but Pete has an uphill battle, not just because he’s only supposed to do, like, five minutes, but also because his material isn’t road-tested. His KKK bit starts off okay — “I’m not racist, but do you think at the very first meeting of the KKK, anyone pushed for the correct spelling of clan?” — but before long, he’s upstaged by a heckler, and cuts his already-short set even shorter just to maintain the energy in the room. Such is the life of an emcee.
Soon after, Pete gets some good advice from Miller about the actual craft. Much of it obviously comes down to a lot of practice, but it’s also about knowing your role in any given set. When Pete tries to refuse a drink, Miller busts him by saying, “Part of being an opener is being a good hang. It’s like your second job. That’s how you get ahead.” It might not be great form to encourage someone to take a shot, but it’s good advice for Pete. He’s certainly in desperate need of some.
The rest of the episode revolves around Pete distracting Susie (Gina Gershon), a longtime Artie fan, from taking Artie home for a night of blow and sex. After Artie decides to go home with her, Pete suddenly whisks her away in his car to keep her away. Needless to say, this doesn’t go well. At first, Susie believes she’s been kidnapped and maces both Pete and herself. Then when she invites Pete inside to wash his face, she makes a pass at him, and he rejects her because of his recent breakup. Though Gershon acquits herself well, especially in conveying her character’s loneliness and underlying sadness, the situation feels a little humdrum. The farcical mace situation works despite it being done countless times before, but the scene in Susie’s home mostly drags, especially because it indulges cringe humor for the sole sake of an awkward situation. Although the writers score points off of the unfortunate underbelly of Pete’s personality — his genuinely kind approach can come off as presumptive and condescending — it’s not enough to liven the material.
Eventually, Pete ends up back in the club where Miller is still hanging around, getting drunk. Artie took a cab all the way back to the city, apparently sober, but hopped up on cheese fries. Miller allows Pete to stay at his place if he’ll drive him back to city, and Pete gets his first paycheck, but unfortunately it’s made out to “Pat Halms.” It’s a bittersweet moment best captured by Pete and Miller’s dueling toast earlier in the episode.
“Comedy: six letters, but a thousand reasons it makes the human condition easier,” Miller says.
“To comedy,” Pete responds. “Take a look at your life and then write down some thoughts, memorize them, and then pass them off as something you’re saying in the moment for people who are drinking and paid a cover.”
At its best, Crashing embodies both the idealistic and practical sides of a life on the road. Even if you get paid, they still might not know your name.
• The best joke in the episode is when the club manager tries to pay Pete, but he doesn’t understand what’s required of him. It’s a situation very familiar to a freelancer of any stripe. “Are you incorporated?” the manager asks him. “I’m a human man,” Pete replies.
• Artie on “being a man”: “Distract yourself. You gotta make money. You can’t have emotions and make money. Just keep a blank stare on your face. Do as you’re told. Then one day, you have a heart attack. If you’re lucky, you go clean.”
• On their way up to Albany, Artie peruses Pete’s CD collection, which features Christian-rock band Jars of Clay and Paula Poundstone stand-up. They decide to listen to the latter.
• Pete has never done drugs: “When I was 10, I went through a phase where I couldn’t go to sleep without a Tylenol PM.”
• Is Crashing set a few years back? In this episode, the Albany crowd mostly knows T.J. Miller from his role as Ranger Jones in Yogi Bear.
• T.J. Miller’s jabs at Artie’s appearance: “You look like you work for a homeless person. Are you interning on Skid Row? What cargo are you carrying in those cargo pants? You carrying nostalgia for the ’90s?”