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‘Crashing’ Season 2: Pete Holmes on the Guest Star From the Premiere That Made the Crew Applaud

The show's writer/creator/star talks about his on- and off-screen discussions with Penn Jillette and the bar scene that ended up different than originally written.

Pete Holmes Crashing HBO Season 2

“Crashing”

Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

The opening shot of Season 2 of “Crashing” is Pete Holmes eating. He literally would not have had it any other way.

“We don’t have a lot of debates or disagreements ever here, which is wonderful. But I was ready to argue for that if it came up,” Holmes said in an interview with IndieWire as the comedian was putting the finishing touches on the sophomore HBO show.

Holmes’ central character (also named Pete), closed out the first season of the show in a decidedly mixed place. After watching his marriage dissolve and his comedy career begin to ascend at the same time, a lingering shot of Pete munching from a takeout container might seem like a counterintuitive way to pick things back up. But for Holmes, that opening sequence (which he says was even longer in the original edit) was true to the same personal experiences that helped drive Season 1.

“I love those moments. To me, divorce felt like blinds-drawn, Chinese food, masturbation. And we represent that. And I was proud of that,” Holmes said. “I never see the solitary kind of grieving that some people like myself do. If something bad happened to me back then, I would hole away. I had a lot of friends that would get obsessed with video games. We didn’t go to bars or talk to the bartender. We certainly didn’t get a six-pack, drive to the airport, lay on the windshield and watch planes fly overhead. You medicate. And that’s all you have.”

Those personal experiences are starting to give way more and more to the organic evolution of “Crashing” Pete’s story (“There’s fewer and fewer things that are being drawn upon from my actual experience,” Holmes said), but the opening episode of Season 2 — “The Atheist,” co-written by Holmes and Judd Apatow — also gave the show a chance to drop in a tiny reference that shows the different ways beyond food that Pete is dealing with the changes in his life.

“Pete even opens his laptop and you see there’s a ‘Mad Men’ decal. That’s also in my mind this wink to the audience that he got obsessed with a very long TV show. He isn’t necessarily dealing with his feelings. He’s binging a lot of TV, so much so that he bought a decal on Etsy,” Holmes said. “When I was actually divorced, I got really into ‘Rescue Me’ for some reason. These hypermasculine shows. Women, and this is a compliment, are more like, ‘Let’s feel it, let’s talk about it, let’s wrap around it.’ Men are like, ‘It is what it is’ and then they go fight somebody. Being a very feminine-energied person my whole life, I was drawn to masculine shows. And that’s why I think Pete is drawn to ‘Mad Men.'”

Once Pete eventually leaves his home base and the audience sees him back in the familiar comedy club environs, the character also encounters a mammoth change in the way conceives of his faith. One fateful conversation with Penn Jillette represents perhaps the biggest shift yet in Pete’s relationship to his Christian faith. For Holmes, he wanted that to come from someone who wouldn’t represent that worldview in a pejorative way to either side of the conversation.

“Penn Jillette was my first choice, and I was concerned there might not be a second choice. You think, ‘Who can represent atheism as a really beautiful thing?’ I think atheism can easily be a beautiful thing, but it doesn’t always appear beautiful,” Holmes said. “Once Penn was in, we spoke on the phone and I loved it, specifically the way he views the world to be very hopeful and lovely.”

Pete Holmes Crashing Season 2 HBO

“Crashing”

Peter Kramer/HBO

The Pete/Penn conversation is another in the “Crashing” series of contrasts, putting its main character into situations that challenge his perception of the world and other ways of thinking.

“Obviously, in my real life, I’ve met all different types of atheists, but when I talked to Penn in real life, I wanted 15 of the 22 minutes to just be him talking because he was so great. It was the hardest scene by far to edit this season, because he makes so many wonderful points. Points that I ultimately don’t embody. I don’t stand on his square. If it makes sense, I do agree with him, but I just look at it differently,” Holmes said. “It’s the scene on the show that got applause. Everybody on the crew, the sound guys, everybody put down their stuff and clapped when it was done. I was just like, ‘It’s a really good sign.'”

Another of Season 2’s major changes finds Pete back in the dating pool, newly single with no conception of how to make his feelings known in an environment that he still doesn’t completely understand. One scene late in the premiere finds Pete making uncharacteristic advances towards Ali (Jamie Lee), a female comic. Given the way that the comedy world has changed in recent months, Holmes approached the sequence differently from when it was written and filmed.

“The original scripted version of that scene was far more aggressive. The joke was how aggressive Pete was being. To me, the joke was ‘Pete doesn’t know what he’s doing.’ So it’s that rookie mistake of just being very forward. There’s still things that we’re watching, like, boy, even if it’s just a masturbation joke,” Holmes said. “Those we left in knowing that it might be a little bit uncomfortable, but we took out stuff that was like, ‘Pete seems like an asshole.’ Nothing essential, and honestly nothing hilarious. But just little things where we were like, ‘The story is that Pete doesn’t know that he’s being too aggressive,’ and now we’re like, ‘I don’t want to perpetuate that even as a gag.'”

Approaching a difficult subject with an open mind is in line with what Holmes wants to do with Season 2. Not having Pete be constricted to one seismic change or one overarching anxiety is what he wants to see the character and the show experience.

“It’s not just that Pete’s gonna be getting drunk and sleeping around, it’s more that he’s experienced an inner freedom. It’s not as simple as a loss of faith. I don’t think actually losing your faith is actually what’s interesting about transformation. It’s the moment where you consider that maybe it’s another way,” Holmes said. “And I love those moments and I still look for those moments in any belief that I have, because it’s a very interesting place to stand. When your mind softens for some reason and you don’t just convert to someone else’s ideology, but you go, ‘Maybe it’s not what I thought.'”

“That’s the Pete that we follow through Season 2, is a guy that’s more confused than wayward,” Holmes said, but not before adding with a chuckle, “He’s both confused and wayward.”

“Crashing” Season 2 airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. ET on HBO.

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