This week on CRASHING we’re given slightly more insight into what made Pete the giant man-child that he is, and are finally introduced to his parents to whom he still has to break the news his divorce. “Parents” has all the makings of a classic farce as Pete asks Jess to still pretend they’re married because he doesn’t want to upset his mother on her birthday. They stumble their way through an uncomfortable dinner before Jess has enough and blurts out everything she’s been feeling about them. It seems she’s been holding in a lot over the years, and the scene is further confirmation that Pete has been guilty of misunderstanding her throughout the course of their whole marriage. It works well enough to shed some light as to how Pete has found himself in the position, but at this point the relationship woes have become so irrelevant that I’m not sure what the series is achieving by focusing again on it rather than the comedy pursuits. Every time I think the show has chosen a direction it zags back the other way, and that motivates a lack of investment in itself and from its viewers.
I’m very happy to see Lauren Lapkus’ Jess given more screen time, but despite this episode’s efforts we still don’t know a ton about her besides the fact that she has felt pressured into her life with Pete. Pete says to her at one point, “Who is this? I don’t recognize this person.” To which she responds “Good, I don’t want you to recognize me, I’m different.” And while rebelling against lifelong repression can be compelling to watch, given that we’re only seeing her in her new state from Pete’s point of view, we have no ability to empathize with the version of her Pete is holding onto. As such we can’t really care about his pain over her, and the main reason the show shouldn’t spend anytime trying to develop it. Jess would be better off as a caricature whom we forget about after episode one, because trying to build more out of her in this set up just begs more questions. What is the story behind her family? What was the progression of her rebellion? Were there signs all along the way that Pete never noticed? These would all be interesting to answer, but they’re wholly unimportant to Pete’s storyline unless the show becomes more focused on his growth.
And Pete’s growth, or lack there of, is at the center of the show’s issues and its lack of direction. Again, every episode has funny moments and lines. But the lack of emotional connection is problematic and keeps it from rising to a higher standard. What is still amiss, is that Pete seems like the kind of guy who would recognize his own behavior as being weird, but never does. He’s an observational comic who is oblivious to his own actions or how they appear to others. It’s one thing to make him a bit naïve and green, but it’s another for him not to recognize that repeatedly kissing his mother on the lips would turn some heads in most environments. It certainly makes for funny moments and gives other actors opportunity to respond to his strangeness in funny ways. But that is done at the sacrifice of Pete’s character, and doesn’t show him evolve in any natural way.
Pete, unsurprisingly, has a very close and intimate relationship with his mother. “I’m her little gentleman,” he explains to a disgusted Jermaine Fowler who has just had the privilege of hearing Pete’s nauseating good bye to his mother over the phone. It’s a joke that lets us know that Pete’s marriage woes were probably inevitable given the expectations placed on him by his family. But it’s bizarre that in the moment he doesn’t realize how he sounds to Jermaine, and more so that he doesn’t realize the oppressive nature of that relationship until Jess outs him at the dinner. While it was exciting to see the scene not play out the way you would expect, ultimately the problems of their relationship are revealed so quickly and clearly by Jess, that it again denies any emotional commitment you can give them. I’m not sure why they didn’t go with a full scene of them trying to hide their divorce and letting that play out into a full disaster. Maybe Pete blackmailing Jess into doing it would have raised the comedic stakes a bit, but the episode instead opted for a sense of realism it can never achieve.
The closest it gets to emotional realism is the moment Pete’s father reveals his previous marriage. It’s supposed to be the kind of revelation that sets Pete free for the next stage in his life and is played wonderfully by the actor who plays Pete’s father. But it, like the rest of the show, suffers from telling without showing its emotions. We don’t know the deeper issues in Pete’s parents’ lives that causes them to raise him the way they do, and we’re being told it over one quick episode. I don’t know if the show is even really interested in doing that with its characters on the ultimately. But when a show devotes that much time to traumatic event like Pete’s divorce it needs to build something off of it as long as it’s going to live in that space. By the end of the episode, Pete seems so fine and free as he drinks with Jess, you wonder what in the world this relationship was like for anybody to pretend to have taken seriously in the first place.
Season 1, Episode 5 (S01E05)
Crashing airs Sunday at 1030PM on HBO
Greg Brecher | Contributor