Pete Davidson Plays Pete Davidson Again — and Engaging New Dramedy 'Bupkis' Has Plenty of Fun with It

Move over 'The King of Staten Island' — co-starring the great Joe Pesci and Edie Falco, this series gets satirical with the ex-'SNL' comedian’s life and fame.
Sarah Ward
Published on May 04, 2023

In its opening moments, Bupkis unloads — twice, in completely different ways, while ensuring there's zero doubt that this is a series about Pete Davidson starring Pete Davidson as Pete Davidson. First, the former Saturday Night Live comedian gets Googling while alone in the basement of the Staten Island home he shares with his mother Amy (Edie Falco, Avatar: The Way of Water). The results about Ariana Grande, Kate Beckinsale and Kim Kardashian's ex aren't positive; one headline simply exclaims 'Yuck!'. So, to shake off the unpleasantness of reading '12 Things Horribly Wrong with Pete Davidson', which is one of the nicer statements, he switches from "scumbro" with "butthole eyes" comments to porn. He's wearing a VR headset, and he's soon deep in self-love. Then his mum walks in.

Streaming from Thursday, May 4 on Binge in Australia and TVNZ+ in New Zealand, Bupkis clearly isn't wary about getting crude. It isn't concerned about satirising its central figure, either. Instead, this semi-autobiographical dramedy relishes the parody. At the age of 29, Davidson has reached the "you may as well laugh" point in his career, which is hardly surprising given he's spent the past decade swinging his big chaotic energy around. Or, more accurately, how pop culture has hung on every twist in his love life and off-screen mess far more than his eight SNL seasons and big-screen roles in Big Time Adolescence, The Suicide Squad, Bodies Bodies Bodies and more. Missed those flicks? Bupkis riffs on them, too, while also following in The King of Staten Island's footsteps.

Partway through the eight-episode series, while keen to claim some perks for being Davidson's mother — other than doting on her son, that is — Amy shouts at wait staff that "Marisa Tomei played me!". Add that to Bupkis' gleeful, playful nods to reality. An opening statement before each instalment stresses the difference between fact and fiction, and why the show has the name it has, but art keeps imitating life everywhere. There's no switching names, however. Davidson is indeed Davidson, his IRL mum is called Amy and his sister is Casey (Oona Roche, The Morning Show). As in The King of Staten Island, they've been a trio since 9/11, and dealing with losing his New York City firefighter dad still isn't easy.

Off-screen, Davidson must be a fan of My Cousin Vinny, plus the gangster genre. Hailing from the former as Tomei does, and famed for his performances in the latter like The Sopranos star Falco, Goodfellas, Casino and The Irishman alum Joe Pesci is a pivotal part of Bupkis as Davidson's grandfather Joe — a hilarious and delightful part, unsurprisingly. When Joe drops grim health news, the series gets one of its through lines, with Davidson determined to spend as much time with his grandpa as possible. He's clueless about what to do, though, whether he's hiring him a sex worker or seeking advice about why no one ever takes him seriously. Joe is blunt: "they see you as a joke because you are a joke — and you act like a fucking joke."

There's roguish self-awareness to the way Bupkis leans into Joe's assessment — with Davidson lampooning himself, could there be anything else? — alongside an earnest-but-comic effort to unpack why that's such a widely held view. Joe also advises that he needs to stop trying to make himself happy and focus on other people for a change, another thread tying the show's episodic antics together. Sometimes, Davidson endeavours to prove he can look after a kid (there's that Big Time Adolescence nudge). Elsewhere, he attempts to push his career into blockbusters (which is where The Suicide Squad comes to mind, but here he's making a war epic with Brad Pitt). Often, he's unable to work out how to have a normal relationship with his girlfriend Nikki (Bodies Bodies Bodies' Chase Sui Wonders, who played his character's girlfriend in that savvy slasher and is reportedly Davidson's real-life paramour at the time of writing).

Creating Bupkis with The King of Staten Island co-writer Dave Sirus and Crashing's Judah Miller (so, a veteran of another comedy where a comedian plays himself), Davidson also battles a troll who keeps posting a photo of him that he hates, looks back on the aftermath of his father's death with 'Cotton Eye Joe' as a soundtrack, and goes to rehab with Machine Gun Kelly and Black Bird's Paul Walter Hauser. He has Everybody Loves Raymond's Brad Garrett and Nine Perfect Strangers' Bobby Cannavale as surrogate father figures, and Ray Romano as a nemesis. Everyone from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Charlie Day and Miracle Workers' Steve Buscemi to SNL's Kenan Thompson and John Mulaney pop up, plus Jon Stewart, Al Gore and Method Man. He hangs out with an entourage — Evan (Philip Ettinger, Angelyne), Derek (Derek Gaines, The Last OG), Crillz (first-timer James A DeSimone), Dave (Sirus) and Gilly (Shane Gillis, Gilly and Keeves) — like the show is a Staten Island-set version of Entourage, and enlists Red Rocket's Simon Rex for a killer Florida-set Fast and Furious spoof.

What is it like to be Pete Davidson? Returning to that key question again and again on-screen, the honest answer in Bupkis is anarchic and absurd, usually of his own making. If the series wasn't as sincere as it is, it could be accused of throwing anything and everything it can at the sitcom's walls and letting it all stick — but there's always insight shining behind even its silliest and most surreal stretches. When he's ruining funerals, missing his sister's graduation, proving the truth behind 'Is Pete Davidson on Drugs?' articles, not taking big gigs seriously and opting for mystery substances over a quiet night alone abroad over the holidays, Bupkis doesn't avoid the glaringly obvious, either: it's the sitcom's version of Davidson who is making his own choices.

The King of Staten Island was also candid, raw and lived-in, as well as thoughtful and laugh-out-loud funny. Davidson delivered a compelling wayward-yet-vulnerable performance, too, while surrounded by excellent supporting players. No wild escapade is ever exactly the same twice, of course, as Davidson's on-screen characters keep experiencing — and repeating himself turns out entertainingly and astutely when he's this intent to keep interrogating his own existence. Pesci and Falco couldn't be more perfectly cast, both seeing through the tabloid facade (one with no-nonsense gruffness, the other with an abundance of warmth), but Davidson knows how to leave an imprint as himself. Here, he's again unloading his real struggles, and he's also unwilling to bask in sitcom happiness. The details might be embellished and fictionalised Curb Your Enthusiasm and Ramy-style, but that definitely isn't bupkis.

Check out the trailer for Bupkis below:

Bupkis streams via Binge in Australia and TVNZ+ in New Zealand from Thursday, May 4.

Images: Heidi Gutman / Peacock.

Published on May 04, 2023 by Sarah Ward
Tap and select Add to Home Screen to access Concrete Playground easily next time. x