Pete Davidson knows a thing or two about reputation preceding reality.
Since his “Saturday Night Live” debut in 2014, Davidson has carved a niche playing extensions or exaggerated versions of himself, whether it’s “The King of Staten Island,” “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” or the rom-com “Meet Cute.” “Bupkis,” the Peacock comedy created by Davidson, Judah Miller, and Dave Sirus, dials Pete Davidson — the idea, not the actual person — up to 1000, accepting him as an entity unto himself.
As that heightened version of himself, Pete lives in Staten Island with his mother (Edie Falco) and hangs out with his mostly good-for-nothing friends. His cantankerous grandfather (Joe Pesci) gives him a rude awakening in the premiere, telling his grandson to stop being so selfish and do something for someone else once in a while — with disastrous results.
Early announcements compared “Bupkis” to “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” with Davidson as the parallel for a de facto Larry David, but the eight-episode series often goes beyond meta and headfirst into absurd. There are standalone episodes, flights of fancy, shifts in tone and color, and increasingly wild cameos (at least one of which is a fantastic runner). Part of that is the drugs — used often and freely, and concerning everyone around Pete — but it’s also the authenticity behind one of the cusp generation’s most idiosyncratic voices.
The cast around Davidson rotates, its standouts and frontmen being Pesci, Falco, Brad Garrett, and Bobby Cannavale. They form an immersive bubble around Davidson — around Pete, the character, as he reconciles his past and future, his tabloid presence and daily life, and the man he wants to be for the handful of people he truly cares about. Pesci is perfectly cast as grandpa Joe a.k.a. “Poppy,” his own inimitable screen presence on full display, equally mirroring and rubbing off on Davidson as both scene partner and fictional kin. Falco finds exactly the right balance for a woman who appears incapable of being fazed by Davidson’s antics, starting with the cold open. (Though there are exceptions. See: Episode 2.) All of these people, and the more tertiary characters, are incidental to Pete — which feels as much by design as to the show’s detriment. Fame and notoriety can be isolating, and “Bupkis” zeroes in on its hero as the show goes on.
Throughout eight half-hour episodes, Pete Davidson the persona becomes a bit of a distraction. As the show takes on its own life, it doesn’t need to lean on him and could be about some other guy played by Pete Davidson. Paradoxically, that may not have been an option; maybe then the distraction would be watching Pete Davidson just play some guy who has an awful lot in common with Pete Davidson — even when so many actors have done the same.
“Unapologetic” gets overused with projects and portrayals like “Bupkis,” and if there is an apology in there it’s between Davidson and his inner circle, including himself. But for those who have delighted in his various personal highs and lows over the past decade, “Bupkis” captures that chaotic enjoyment while sneakily acquainting viewers with Davidson as an artist. His reputation doesn’t have to eclipse his career — and the very least, they can start to work together.
“Bupkis” premieres Thursday, May 4 on Peacock. All eight episodes are available now.