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Can We Forgive Pete Davidson For What Bupkis Does to Edie Falco?

His gross-out comedy wants us to sympathize with the wrong person.
  • Edie Falco in Bupkis (Photo: Heidi Gutman/Peacock)
    Edie Falco in Bupkis (Photo: Heidi Gutman/Peacock)

    The premiere of Pete Davidson's new comedy Bupkis is masturbatory in two ways, and one severely undercuts the other. Though future episodes of the Peacock series take ambitious stylistic swings, the first one tells a straightforward story about Pete (Davidson, as a version of himself) assessing his life as a directionless celebrity who lives at home with his mother. Written by Davidson with Judah Miller and Dave Sirus, it’s designed to cast a comic gauntlet, delivering one gross-out moment after another to announce the show will be giddily impolite as it explores what it’s like to be a famous, aimless dude. But the episode is also crafted to make us care about Pete as a person. Tucked inside the raunchy bits are frequent pleas to sympathize with the guy and care enough about him to follow eight episodes’ worth of his adventures.

    As the series begins, Pete’s in the basement, using a VR helmet to google what people are saying about him. We see flashes of headlines that are only slightly more outrageous than the things actual tabloids write about him, gossiping about everything from his drug habit to the permanent dark circles under his eyes. This teaches us not only that people are mean to the lead character, but also that Bupkis blurs the line between reality and fiction.

    The latter becomes especially relevant when Pete switches from googling himself to watching VR porn. With goggles and headphones on, he’s so immersed in his self-pleasure that he doesn’t hear his mother Amy (Edie Falco) coming down the stairs, and as he finishes, he doesn’t realize she’s standing right in front of him. When he takes off the headset, he’s horrified to realize his fluids are all over his mother’s shirt.

    This Oedipal gag would be cringeworthy no matter who played Amy, but because she’s portrayed by Falco, there’s an extra layer of discomfort. We’ve already been encouraged to remember that famous people on this show are “real,” so even though she’s in character, it’s hard to ignore that we’re watching a TV icon get covered in the semen of a burnout who began this very sequence reminding us the internet thinks he’s trash. The joke is memorably audacious — and of course Falco agreed to shoot the scene — but it’s hard not to feel sad on her behalf.

    It’s even more disorienting that Bupkis wants us to sympathize with Pete, not his mother. He’s distraught over what happened, but Amy isn’t bothered. She won’t even change clothes before dinner, because she’s doing a Peloton program afterward and doesn’t want to dirty another shirt. Pete leaves the house after that, stammering that his mom should have enough sense to be mortified.

    The subtext is that Pete’s shame makes him the “normal one” in this grotesque incident. That’s similar to what happens later in the episode, when he takes his dying grandfather (Joe Pesci) and his uncle Roy (Brad Garrett) out for a guys’ night. At the climax of their evening, Roy throws out his hip while he’s in bed with a sex worker named Donna (Lynne Koplitz). Immobilized, he asks Pete to come into the bedroom and push on his back, rocking his body back and forth until he finishes the deed with his lady friend. Once again, Pete is repulsed, but his grandfather pressures him into helping. Even Donna says she’s fine with it, which leaves Pete with no choice but to become an unconventional sex surrogate. Just like earlier, we’re meant to sympathize with him as the only normal one in the room.

    Or to put it another way, we’re supposed to realize that even though Pete ends up in a lot of gross situations, it’s not his fault. He’s a decent guy with a well-honed sense of right and wrong, but he’s surrounded by people with loose ethics. He’s sick of reading mean things about himself, and he wants people to understand that he’s actually a comic hero.

    Except heroes hold themselves accountable for things. When a person works this hard to position himself as a victim of his environment, he just comes across as a narcissist. And a narcissist’s pity party isn’t much fun, even if it’s framed as a joke.

    The first season of Bupkis is streaming on Peacock. Join the conversation about the show in our forums.

    Mark Blankenship has been writing about arts and culture for twenty years, with bylines in The New York Times, Variety, Vulture, Fortune, and many others. You can hear him on the pop music podcast Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs.

    TOPICS: Bupkis, Peacock, Edie Falco, Joe Pesci, Pete Davidson