"Love him or hate him, James has more or less made a career at this point of playing likable schlubs (with the odd exception every now and then), and (co-star Sarah) Stiles manages to find both a warmth and a bitterness in Beth, giving her character a genuine complexity," says Dan Caffrey of James' NASCAR-themed workplace sitcom. "But the characterizations aren’t enough to make up for the fact that The Crew just isn’t that funny. Yes, comedy is subjective, and yes, one’s preference for the jokes here is going to depend on how much they enjoy this particular type of sitcom—a hyper-specific genre in and of itself—to begin with. But the writers’ idea of what separates the young from the middle-aged or the working class from the corporate world feels, for lack of a better word, basic. In one episode, the crew is disgusted by Catherine restocking the break room with healthy snacks instead of junk food. Another plot point finds the team members incredulous that their long-running steak sponsor has been replaced by a company specializing in meat substitutes. There are cracks about the strangeness of any restaurant that isn’t the local bar (the predictably named Pit Stop). There are quips about Instagram. Whether or not the jokes land is irrelevant—the canned laughter stays cranked up to 11 at all times, as if attempting to drown out any dissenting opinions."
The Crew rehashes lazy and sexist sitcom clichés: "A consistent through line in (Kevin) James’ television work is the consideration of a man struggling to understand that the world he grew up in, including his perception of masculinity and gender roles, is becoming obsolete," says Sadie Gennis. "But while the world has evolved in the 14 years since The King of Queens went off the air, it seems James’ perspective on these issues has not. In addition to Catherine, The Crew introduces a young up-and-coming female racer, Jessie (Paris Berelec), as a rival for the team’s current driver Jake (Freddie Stroma). While Jake is a scatter-brained dope whose compulsion to hit on every woman in sight (including his new boss) is presented as a laughable quirk and not harassment, Jessie is focused, responsible, and up to any task put in front of her. Yet after one of Jessie’s races, Kevin dismisses the fans lined up to meet her as nothing more than 'old guys wanting to hit on her,' which is only one of many ways women’s successes are consistently diminished and mocked in the show. The overarching theme of The Crew is men bristling against how unfair it is to be forced to listen to or share space with young women."
The Crew turns its NASCAR setting into a 10-episode ad for the sport and its many sports: "Most eventually find a way on-screen, while Busch (the official beer), Budweiser and Stella Artois (also an AB InBev brand) get prominent placement during the bar scenes — so prominent that when conversation in one scene pivots to healthy food habits, a bucket of Bud Ultra Light is delivered to the table," says Verne Gay. "Product placement is old-school marketing but so crudely deployed on The Crew that it becomes its own running joke. A tiresome one at that."
Kevin James says The Crew's chemistry worked from the get-go: “You can have all the elements of the show come together, from script to production to NASCAR to Netflix, but if there’s no (cast) chemistry it doesn’t matter,” he says. “It’s the one thing you can’t control. It’s either there, or not. I gotta tell you, man, it was so there on The Crew. Shooting that first episode I felt like we were in Season 3 already."
James feels liberated by the Netflix management style, which amounts to: We trust you: “It’s much different and much better for me, for sure,” he says. With network sitcoms, James bemoans “what you have to go through to get notes from everybody and all the way down the line and everybody’s gotta weigh and in you gotta please everybody.” It’s not uncommon for the suits to flag a joke in advance for potentially scaring the advertisers. But “Netflix just does their thing, they give you the reins and they let you go,” he says. “When you worry about, ‘Hey, can we do this or do that,’ they’re like, ‘Just do it,’ ‘Absolutely.’”