Bupkis, Peacock’s new semi-autobiographical Pete Davidson comedy, banks a lot on the audience’s inherent interest in Pete Davidson. It’s not necessarily a misguided assumption — there is ample, overwhelming, and persistent evidence that, yes, a sizable number of people want to know about Pete Davidson. But Bupkis is not always sure about what to do with that curiosity or how to capitalize on it beyond “Hey, here’s Pete Davidson doing something wild!” And the biggest misstep of that model is that even while its main offering is Pete Davidson Doing Something, Bupkis doesn’t commit to making that something wild enough.
To illustrate this, I must now describe the opening scene of Bupkis in detail and at length. Calling this a spoiler feels a little weird: Bupkis is much more about vibes than plot, and the advantage of vibe-based storytelling is that it really doesn’t matter what happens. Nevertheless, this opening scene does hope to be surprising, and I’m about to ruin that surprise. Fair warning!
In the first scene of Bupkis, Pete Davidson ejaculates on his mom.
To be more specific: The actor and comedian Pete Davidson, who is playing an actor and comedian named Pete Davidson with a career and family history very close to that of real-life Pete Davidson, ejaculates on his mother, played in this show by not–actual–Pete Davidson–parent Edie Falco.
The establishing circumstance here is that the Bupkis version of Pete Davidson, who lives with his mother, has had a depressing evening of Googling himself and decides to watch porn on a VR headset in the basement. His mother is doing the laundry. The scene cuts back and forth between them — she’s upstairs sorting the mail, he’s downstairs scrolling through a menu of porn choices. She’s getting the basket ready, he’s still wearing the headset while stumbling over to find some lotion. She’s knocking on the door, he’s knocking on himself. She’s coming down the stairs, he’s cumming directly onto the athleisure top she’s wearing.
At times, Bupkis seems to be aiming for “pretty gross,” and this scene does fit the bill. It’s also an attempt to set up one of the show’s key dynamics: this intense, interwoven, too-close, literally and figuratively messy relationship between Pete Davidson and his mom. The pieces are all in place for a show about celebrity and media and notoriety, arrested development, and what happens to a parent-child dynamic after the other parent dies.
Except even in this scene, which clearly hopes to make “Pete Davidson cums on his mom” into a big interrobang of an opening, Bupkis isn’t sure where to go next. Pete Davidson doesn’t seem that upset about it. His mother barely blinks. The scene itself is set to an operatic aria meant to underline the rising tension, but the specific choice here is Rossini’s “Largo al factotum” from the Barber of Seville, a piece of music with such a long legacy of being used for over-the-top absurdity that its use here feels like a shrug. And not to put too fine a point on it, but … the cum doesn’t land on her face? Or her skin? It’s a private moment between the two of them, and then they both move on. Bupkis seems to want its audience to yell, “AHHH OH MY GOD PETE DAVIDSON CAME ON HIS MOM,” but the scene itself would be more effective if it’d gone either more demure (and therefore suggestive) or more disgusting (and therefore shocking). Instead it’s almost ho-hum: some opera, some ejaculate, some laundry, the day rolls along.
Even that level of placid, straightforward unflappability could make for an interesting approach: Here’s Pete Davidson’s wild life, presented as though everything is totally normal! But in the case of the mom-cumming and also in the show more broadly, Bupkis never figures out what the next idea is. That’s partly because it’s more interested in mood than ideas, but it’s also because Bupkis is never entirely sure whether it wants to be talking about Real Pete Davidson or Show Pete Davidson, or what the difference between them might be, or why that might be an important question to ask, or how that answer could be used to make this show better. It presents something potentially interesting, it shrugs, it moves on.
For those already invested in Pete Davidson, that might be enough! As it goes on, Bupkis becomes a fill-in-the-blanks game of “Who Is Pete Davidson?”, a collage of cameos (Jane Curtin? Al Gore??), and this-really-happened backstory and cheeky references (Edie Falco’s character yelling that Marisa Tomei played her in the movie). Without that initial buy-in, though, it’s a show about Pete Davidson that doesn’t know what it wants to say about Pete Davidson. Except one thing, of course, which is that it would be funny if Pete Davidson came on his mom.