Bupkis S1E1: Magic Moment

We open on Pete Davidson, scrolling through articles about himself on a VR helmet, then quickly getting bored and switching over to Pornhub. He keeps getting distracted from the fantasy by getting hung up on the details — a guy dressed as a mailman watching the action through the window; the fact that the scenario inexplicably shifts from job interview to stepsiblings — but it’s all just a setup for his mom to walk in on him masturbating. The result is graphic, horribly inappropriate, and Mom is nonplussed to the degree that this kind of thing probably happens more often than anyone involved would like.

It’s a lot more skeevy than funny, but give Bupkis credit for one thing, it very firmly sets the tone in the first three minutes. The question that Bupkis has to answer is, is that tone going to end up being any different than 2020’s The King of Staten Island, a semi-autobiographical Judd Apatow-directed film in which Davidson is also unafraid to make himself look like an emotionally crippled dirtbag. As in the movie, Bupkis’ Pete lost his firefighter dad on 9/11, has an uncomfortably close relationship with his mother (Edie Falco here, Marissa Tomei in the film), has a sister (Oona Roche here, Maude Apatow in the film) who barely puts up with his shit, and still hangs out with the ex-girlfriend (Davidson’s Bodies, Bodies, Bodies costar Chase Sui Wonders here; Bel Powley in the film) he insists he’s over and clearly isn’t. Although he’s playing himself as a celebrity here, instead of a directionless kid in Staten Island, he still lives with his mother and mostly hangs out in the basement with his friends, smoking weed. The difference is, his friends here are a celebrity entourage, who are somewhere between best buds and employees.

The other difference is, he has his foul-mouthed, bluntly honest grandpa Joe (Joe Pesci, playing Joe Pesci) to keep him grounded. Joe is dying, and he wants to spend some time with Pete while he still can (which Pete, to his credit, is on board with).

Pete pushes his friend Evan to book a prostitute for Joe, but Joe complicates things by inviting Pete’s not-technically-Uncle Roy (Brad Garrett). The prostitute tries to make things seem like a causal meeting, Joe immediately sees through the ruse, and is offended Pete thinks he can’t get laid on his own. But the foursome end up hanging out in the hotel suite Pete booked and have a good time. Pete and Joe have a genuine bonding moment, while Roy ends up in bed with the prostitute.

Except it can’t be that simple. Roy throws out his hip, and when Pete offers to help get him out of bed, he instead asks him to “rock me back and forth for a couple minutes” so he can “finish the job.” Pete’s horrified, but Joe convinces him this is his chance to do something selfless. So he reluctantly goes through with it, even as Roy criticizes his technique, and the prostitute assures him, “you’re a really sweet kid.”

The thing is, he kind of is. As with Staten Island, behind the vulgar attempts at boundary-pushing, there is a real sweetness at the core of Davidson’s sensibility. He’s a fuckup who constantly finds himself in one mess after another, but at the end of the day, he wants to be there for his family, he wants to repair his relationships, and if he isn’t doing anything new here, well, King of Staten Island was a pretty good movie. More of the same in half hour installments isn’t the worst thing.

Stray Thoughts:
• While some of Peacock’s shows are on the episode-a-week model, Bupkis released all eight episodes at once. We’ll review them as your humble reviewer gets time to watch, ideally two a week but we’re not making any promises. Subject has a lot of TV to watch, as we’re also reviewing Barry, Ted Lasso, The Big Door Prize, Succession, and starting tomorrow, Silo.

• Davidson co-wrote every episode alongside some combination of sitcom veteran Judah Miller (Clone High, Stacked, King of the Hill, Crashing) and Saturday Night Live writer Dave Sirus. 

• It’s fascinating seeing the gap emerge between network TV Standards & Practices, and the relatively lax standards of streaming. Sometimes it’s subtle, like the occasional curse word on Paramount+’s otherwise PG Star Trek shows, or Natasha Lyonne calling “bullshit” in Poker Face. But the gap between what will fly on NBC and Peacock doing a hard-R comedy is rather pronounced. We’re living in The Simpsons’ future, in which Fox turns into a hardcore sex channel so gradually we hardly notice.