‘Bupkis’: When Pete Davidson plays himself, the more absurd it gets, the more real it seems

Joe Pesci, Edie Falco bring their A games to Peacock series leaning into the ‘SNL’ comedian’s closely watched life.

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Pete Davidson (played by Pete Davidson) hangs out with his dying grandfather (Joe Pesci) on “Bupkis.”

Peacock

Pete Davidson was just 20 when he joined “Saturday Night Live” in 2014, becoming one of the youngest cast members ever, and his resumé over the last decade includes some well-received stand-up specials along with genuinely effective performances in films such as “The King of Staten Island” and “Bodies Bodies Bodies.”

But Davidson would be the first to tell you he’s most famous for being PETE DAVIDSON. The guy whose father died on 9/11. The guy who has been admirably open about his mental health issues. They guy who has all those tattoos, until he got rid of some of those tattoos. The guy who has dated all those famous women, one right after another.

The likable, endearingly strange and often damn funny Davidson leans into his celebrity status and his sometimes polarizing persona with the bold and risk-taking albeit uneven Peacock comedy series “Bupkis.” He plays a version of himself, careening between being the subject of Fake News death reports on the Internet, landing a role in a Brad Pitt war film but never actually meeting Brad Pitt, having his every public move recorded by onlookers with smartphones, experiencing an addiction relapse—and taking solace in his basement while hanging with his buddies, or sharing an adventure with his grandfather or his one of his uncles. It’s a big, stupid, complicated, funny, overwhelming, ridiculous, amusing and sometimes deeply sad life.

‘Bupkis’

Untitled

An eight-episode series available Thursday on Peacock.

As the title card explains at the outset of each episode:

“While this program is inspired in part by real people and events, certain parts have been fictionalized solely for dramatic purposes and are not intended to reflect on any actual person or entity. It’s Bupkis.”

That’s the Yiddish word for “nothing,” aka nothing of value or significance, as in, Don’t take any of this too seriously. “Bupkis” is essentially “Curb Your Enthusiasm” meets “Entourage.”

It’s reminiscent of “Curb” in that Davidson is playing himself, with the actual biographical details of his life and career ingrained in the show.

As with “Entourage,” we follow the misadventures of a big-time star and his homies, all of whom are now on his payroll, and as is the case with “Curb” (and “Entourage,” come to think of it) some celebrities cameo as themselves, e.g., Ray Romano, Sebastian Stan, Jon Stewart and Al Gore, whereas others play characters, as with Romano’s “Raymond” co-star Brad Garrett portraying Davidson’s Uncle Roy, Edie Falco as Pete’s mom and Joe Pesci as his grandfather.

And yes, how about that cast! The legendary, 80-year-old Pesci is low-key hilarious as Poppy, who is dying and would like to spend as much time as possible with his grandson Pete while he can, while Falco is a scene-stealing force as Pete’s mother, Amy, who shares a home in Staten Island with her man-child of a son and is fiercely protective of her boy, but also never hesitates to take advantage of her celebrity-by-parentage status, e.g., reminding someone, “Marisa Tomei played me in the movie!”

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Edie Falco plays Pete’s mom.

Peacock

The outstanding supporting cast also includes Davidson’s “Bodies Bodies Bodies” co-star Chase Sui Wonders (who may or may not be dating Davidson in real life) as Pete’s ex-girlfriend, Nikki, who is the closest thing to an actual grown-up among his friends, and Bobby Cannavale as Pete’s Uncle Tommy, a completely irresponsible influence who has been telling Pete, “Do as I say, not as I do,” since Pete was a little boy. Having lost his dad at such a young age and in such tragic fashion, Pete is clearly searching for a father figure in his grandfather and his uncles; at least two of them might not be up to the job.

After an opening scene that makes the famous “hair gel” gag in “There’s Something About Mary” seem tame and we’ll leave it at that, “Bupkis” is off and running, with some episodes much more effective than others. Among the highlights: a flashback-laden episode that takes place at Uncle Tommy’s wedding shortly after Pete’s father was killed; the aforementioned film shoot, in which Pete finds himself working on a soundstage in Canada over the holidays and getting caught up in some surrealistic madness, and the Season 1 finale, shot mostly in black-and-white at a rehab center at which Pete winds up getting totally effed up with Machine Gun Kelly and Paul Walter Hauser, and they pay tribute to a certain scene from a classic 1970s movie. (Pop culture references abound, whether we’re catching glimpses of movies such as “Sullivan’s Travels” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” on TV, or Pete finding himself in a “real-life” version of a “Fast and Furious” movie, complete with ridiculous car stunts and a violent shoot-out.)

Davidson and showrunner Judah Miller have teamed up for a quasi-autobiographical series that is absolutely absurd, and yet might not be that far off from Pete Davidson’s insanely crowded, messy and endlessly fascinating actual world.

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