Scott Davidson, Pete’s father, was a New York City firefighter who rushed into the World Trade Center to save people on September 11, 2001, and didn’t come back out. Pete has understandably been grappling with his father’s death for his entire adult life, and has done so publicly in both his standup and semi-autobiographical 2020 film The King of Staten Island. So as much as Bupkis presents itself as a raunchy comedy, the first two episodes have been preoccupied with loss. Last week, Pete bonded with his terminally ill grandfather (Joe Pesci), and this week we start on September 28, 2001, where the Davidsons have to attend a family wedding while still reeling from loss.
Pete’s mother Amy (Edie Falco), is determined to keep her and her kids’ spirits up, including Pete’s largely-unaware toddler-aged sister. “Maybe we don’t have to tell her,” she playfully suggests. “We could just tell her I’m her dad,” 8-year-old Pete gamely offers. So, despite none of them wanting to face other peoples’ overbearing sympathy, Amy can’t miss her sister’s wedding, otherwise the terrorists win.
As Amy studiously avoids anyone who wants to talk about her husband or cheer her up, Young Pete goes through a typical kid-at-a-wedding experience, with glimpses into the adult world, punctuated by said adults trying and failing to relate to him, even moreso because of his father’s recent loss. Nobody knows what to say when an adult loses someone close to them, but that goes double when it’s an adult who doesn’t really know what to say to a kid at the best of times.
The priest who officiates the wedding (Steve Buscemi) tries to reassure Pete, telling him God needed his dad up in heaven, and somehow stumbles into some numerology tying 9/11 to the holy trinity to Scott Davidson’s age when he died — 33, the same as Jesus. Then he somehow lands on, “your dad was Jesus incarnate.”
The one person who’s comfortable with Pete is probably the last person he should be hanging around with, the groom, Uncle Tommy (Bobby Cannavale). He comes across Pete at a urinal with his pants around his ankles, and teaches him the proper way to unzip his pants. (This probably could have been done without showing the audience Tommy’s penis, but given that he follows the lesson up by doing a bump of cocaine within sight of Pete, there’s a theme of him seeing things an 8-year-old shouldn’t be seeing. And that’s this week’s reminder that Peacock has a very different set of standards and practices than NBC.)
But Young Pete’s string of inappropriate bonding moments with his new uncle are intercut with Modern Day Pete catching up with a now middle-aged Uncle Tommy over a drink. Twenty years down the line, the confident, handsome adult Pete looked up to as a kid (despite a constant refrain of “do as I say, not as I do,”) is jittery, unhappy with his marriage, and claims to work for a Russian bank. His daughter is leaving for college, he “can’t do drugs anymore,” but he hasn’t found anything to replace those things with. Sometimes he fantasizes about driving off the Verrazano Bridge. Pete still has a lot of affection for his uncle, but now he’s also a little worried about him.
Tommy reassures that Pete isn’t the only one with issues, and Pete’s thoughtful response makes us realize that, despite a lifetime of loss and anxiety, Pete’s the well-adjusted one. In the end, the episode really isn’t about Pete’s dad at all. His kids-eye view of the adults at the wedding, condescending or misbehaving, or looking the other way as he takes sips of champagne, is all universal stuff. And the real focus isn’t on the dead, but the living. We all deal with grief and pain and we all feel like fuck-ups most of the time and we don’t know where our lives are going, and we usually make it through just fine.
• Preston Brodrick comports himself well as Young Pete, managing to capture Davidson’s pucking sense of humor and general vibe, as well as the awkwardness of being a kid at a formal event.
• Edie Falco didn’t get much to do last week, and she’s terrific as always this week, constantly shifting between sadness, aggravation, sympathy, and resignation. She manages to encompass all the complex emotions of mourning without having to say all that much.
• At the wedding, Pete overhears his grandparents acknowledging that they didn’t much like his father, and that he died on Grandma’s birthday. A few minutes later, he confronts Grandma (SNL legend Jane Curtin), telling her, “you should be careful what you wish for. Because my birthday’s in a couple of months, and you don’t wanna know what I’m gonna wish for.”
• The show doesn’t do any worse of a job than The Irishman of de-aging Joe Pesci for the wedding flashbacks, and for a lot less money.
• Bobby Cannavale, Jane Curtin, Steve Buscemi, Joe Pesci — Pete Davidson’s rolodex might be even more impressive than his little black book.