It’s telling how the series underuses family characters, like those played by Joe Pesci (as his gruff grandfather) and Brad Garrett (a sweetheart uncle), for thin arcs about Pete disappointing his loved ones. Edie Falco gets more to work with as a mother who wants to support her son but is hurt by each public fiasco. In one effective beat, she believes a hoax about his death, especially when she can’t get in touch with him, when the only thing that died is Pete’s iPhone.
Co-created by Davidson, Judah Miller, and Dave Sirus, “Bupkis” has a few mature ideas on its mind that interact with its shenanigans, but it doesn’t plant many of these ideas deep enough for them to grow. Instead, it’s as if Davidson and company want to confirm that he’s thinking about aging, substance abuse, possibly starting a family, and doing more. But it comes off as representational, and the slack, unsurprising plotting makes clear how much “Bupkis” doesn’t want to follow through on these ideas but leave them as messy or unfinished and shrug them off as art.
The best episode arrives at the midway point, in which Simon Rex of “Red Rocket” (channeling his rapper alter ego Dirt Nasty) co-leads a “Fast & Furious” parody, complete with colorful cars in speedy formation, songs ripped from the movies, and a lesson about Davidson’s makeshift family. It’s a sugary pop culture pastiche fitting for a show that loves its place in media and “Bupkis” could use more of that chutzpah. It’s also a moment in which “Bupkis” aims higher than its usual mode: just hanging out with Pete Davidson and the people he has strained relationships with, which includes his overwhelmed manager/friend, his sister, his long-time situation-ship, his stoner entourage, and more.
Just like Apatow, “Bupkis” loves a surprising cameo. Cameos are a big part of this world, where famous people move in and out, playing themselves (including Jon Stewart, Ray Romano, John Mulaney, LaLa Anthony, Jadakiss, and many more) or random characters. Eventually, the appearances lose their luster, which is significant given how many are crammed in. Without intending, “Bupkis” becomes about the dimming light of celebrity, with Davidson as its power source.
Throughout, the droll series fails to answer what makes Davidson so special, not just famous. A vehicle like this has to reflect the talent of its lead. “Seinfeld” at least had Jerry’s interstitial stand-up sets, or “Dave” has Lil Dicky’s impressive lyrical yarns about his penis. “Bupkis” doesn’t have solid enough writing for Davidson to be associated with; its imagination sells him short. And if it had larger ambitions to be funnier, that wouldn’t hurt. We get from this show that Davidson is ready to be taken more seriously, but it’s still too hazy about why we should do that.
The whole season was screened for review. All eight episodes of “Bupkis” premiere on Peacock on May 4th.