In the Yiddish vernacular, bupkis refers to the essence of nothingness in a person’s value or the lack of substance in something’s worth. Using this slang term for a Pete Davidson vehicle is quite clever on the surface, but it’s also feels very fitting for a show that doesn’t offer audiences anything new in a sea of television with similar premises and protagonists. Bupkis wants to be honest and vulnerable, but comes off like a self-deprecating joke.
Bupkis sees Davidson playing a heightened version of himself, living at home in Staten Island with his mother, Amy (Edie Falco). He goes through life trying to stay sane through the support of his friends and family, while getting into some interesting antics along the way. The show retreads the themes of personal responsibility and accountability that can be seen in Judd Apatow’s The King of Staten Island, where Davidson played a different fictionalized version of himself based on his publicly mythologized true-to-life backstory (the film was also executive produced by showrunner Judah Miller).
However, Bupkis compels itself to take the extra step in attempting to confront Davidson’s own personal life and shortcomings, albeit one that still reinforces his perceived public persona and maintains a barrier of creative fictionalized authenticity. Davidson’s goofy, if not endearing, charisma is on full display, but at times feels frustrating. His presence may be the least interesting thing about his own show. Bupkis wants to balance its comedic tone somewhere between Curb Your Enthusiasm and Crashing (the latter of which Judah Miller also co-wrote/executive produced), but the emotional and comedic tonal dissonance almost feels closer to BoJack Horseman.
The uneven episodic nature shifts halfway through the season, committing to an emotional arc for Davidson to confront his own lack of personal growth. Sometimes this growth is engaging to watch, particularly in the episodes “Iso” and the season finale “Show Me The Way To Go Home.” Other episodes that focus on romantic or homely angles, such as “For Your Amusement” and “Borgnine,” are not as charming. Even Falco, who stands in for Bupkis’ emotional core, feels very underwritten as she gets regulated to subpar and stagnant B-plot fodder, despite the fact that her dramatic performance in the second episode “Do As I Say, Not As I Do” feels worthy of Emmy consideration.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that Bupkis isn’t worth watching. If there’s something the show doesn’t lack, it’s humour, which it has in spades. Laughs come from something as simple as a sight gag, quick quips from Joe Pesci as Davidson’s grandfather – underused throughout the season but never fails to get a laugh– or from the endless array of guest appearances. These cameos range from actors or comedians playing themselves, such as John Mulaney, Jon Stewart, and Ray Romano, or others playing characters within Davidson’s life, such as Charlie Day as a therapist or Simon Rex, as a sleazy Floridian jeweler vying for Davidson’s business.
When Bupkis leans into the moments of surrealism or genuine heart-to-heart conversations , the show shines brightest. But a lot of the success of Bupkis will rest on whether audiences are interested in the offbeat nature and perceived persona of Pete Davidson, if they weren’t already in the first place. The specific artifice of Bupkis – both a standalone sitcom and a second launch pad for Davidson – is a true testament to how much Lorne Michaels loves this kid. Here’s hoping viewers think that way too.
Bupkis premieres 9 p.m ET on Showcase and STACKTV.