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‘Bupkis’ Review – Pete Davidson’s Show Will Please Die-Hard Fans

In an early episode of Peacock’s Bupkis—Pete Davidson’s most autobiographical project to date—Pete, the character (played by Pete, the actor) is obsessed with finding out who keeps pasting an unattractive paparazzi snap as his official Wikipedia photo. In another episode, Pete’s mother (Edie Falco) becomes understandably hysterical after she opens her phone and sees false news reports of her son’s death. It’s a reference to a real-life scare in 2018, when Davidson expressed thoughts of suicide on Instagram before deleting all of his accounts). Bupkis, which debuts all eight of its episodes today, simply begins with Pete on a couch in his mother’s basement… Googling himself.

So, yes—as one of the most posted-about comedians nowadays, Pete Davidson is a little bit obsessed with how he’s perceived. It’s likely no different than how any other famous person overthinks about their public image. But with Davidson, that aspect of his fame has always been the text, instead of the subtext. During his tenure on Saturday Night Live!, Davidson would repeatedly appear on “Weekend Update” (as himself, naturally) with either the stoner millennial take on some subject du jour, or his much-publicized romantic entanglements, giggling through portions of particularly silly dialogue as if he was in on the joke about the joke, laughing along with the crowd a 30 Rock.

In Bupkis, Pete plays a semi-fictionalized version of himself living in a semi-fictionalized version of his life. He lives with his mother in a house on Staten Island, hangs out with a group of deadbeat buddies, tries and fails at romance with a family friend, (Bupkis does not dwell on Kim Kardashian, Ariana Grande, et al), and struggles with being a working actor famous enough for a lengthy Wikipedia page, but not famous enough to meet Brad Pitt while standing in for reshoots on a big-budget war movie. He is preoccupied with the premature death of his father (a firefighter who died on 9/11, like Davidson’s own dad), his dying grandfather (played by Joe Pesci in his first television appearance in almost 40 years), and his anxiety and drug abuse, which threaten to ruin his life. Occasionally hallucinating Ray Romano doesn’t help matters.

Bupkis debuts while the current wave of comedy bro self-flagellation is peaking. Just last week, Netflix premiered a filmed special of comedian John Mulaney’s latest tour, From Scratch (now titled Baby J), in which he candidly details his past addiction, intervention and subsequent stay in rehab, and current sobriety. Mulaney, who took Davidson under his wing after the Instagram incident, appears in a later episode of Bupkis, urging Davidson to go to rehab over lunch. Both comedians openly struggle with their public personas: In the special, Mulaney refers to the “nice Midwestern boy,” Norman Rockwell-ification of his image as “a jail.” Meanwhile, Davidson always seems to be doing something bizarre and ending up in the New York Post—and then popping on “Weekend Update” for a mea culpa. Davidson also previously worked with Judd Apatow on 2020’s The King of Staten Island, a similarly semi-autobiographical project about a Staten Island twenty-something whose firefighter father died when he was a child.

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Davidson knows that he’s one of the more absurd famous people out there, and he also seems to think that pop culture’s fixation on him is a little absurd, too. He seems to enjoy that he is talked about, while also being extremely uncomfortable with it, treating fame as this squirmy animal that is always slipping in and out of his hands. Bupkis‘s title alone implies a self-effacing awareness that this type of entertainment is of no consequence. Watch it, skip it, whatever. In the show, attention makes Pete anxious, which makes him desperate for more attention, like a fretful snake eating its own tail. Bupkis finds humor in ultra-serious subjects, as Davidson tends to do in his comedy routines, but it also leaves enough room for the serious bits to breathe.

After the death scare, Pete’s mom explains to him how the whole thing felt like a premonition, a test run of the way she will likely find out about her son’s death—not from a loved one, but from anonymous sensational tabloid reports on the Internet. In moments like these, Davidson seems painfully—almost tragically—self-aware, like a hero in a Greek play whose doom is foretold in the first five minutes. The back half of the show reckons with Davidson’s desire for sobriety and stability as he, in effect, sends himself into and back out of rehab.

Do you care about Pete Davidson? Do you like him? At this point, you’ve probably already decided that for yourself. Plenty of famous people do—Bupkis is overloaded with cameos from Davidson’s personal friends and collaborators, such as Mulaney, Machine Gun Kelly, Sebastian Stan, J.J. Abrams, Al Gore, and Art the Clown from the Terrifier franchise. Again, he got Joe Pesci! For the avowed Davidson heads curious about a heightened, Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm type of dramatization of one comedian’s strange life, the show will hit. For the rest, it might as well be bupkis.

Watch Bupkis on Peacock

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Emma Stefansky is a culture and entertainment writer based in New York City. Her work can be found at Vanity Fair, GQ, and The Daily Beast, among others. 

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