Crashing, the new HBO comedy from comedian Pete Holmes and executive produced Judd Apatow, is the closet you’re going to get to a sitcom written by Joseph Campbell.
Based on Holmes’ real life experience as a burgeoning stand-up in New York, Crashing follows the sort of mythological, archetypal story beats seen in galaxy-spanning epics, here applied to a story with a scope as small and as vast as one guy’s life.
At the start of Pete’s journey he leads a comfortable, suburban life with his wife outside of New York City. The twin suns of Pete’s humble beginnings are preconceived notions of adulthood and unimaginative sex. He isn’t leading a bad life, but it’s clear that he’s leading an unfulfilled one, defined by known quantities.
Enter the inciting incident: marital infidelity.
Pete’s wife cheating on him is the archetypal call to action, the pull to something bigger, and like so many calls to action before it, Pete’s initial reaction is to reject it. But, like Luke Skywalker rushing back to a burning farm, Pete finds there is nothing for him in his old life.
From there he is whisked from adventure to adventure, pairing up with various comedic Buddhas that form a wide swath of unconventional mentors for our intrepid hero from week to week.
In applying the narrative ebbs and flows of archetypal mythology to a smaller, more intimate story than we are used to seeing them in, Crashing shows the power of the story beats and characters we know so well. These are ideas that ring true for a Jedi and superheroes precisely because they ring true for far more terrestrial, pedestrian protagonists as well.
Three episodes in, Crashing promises to be something between a sitcom and a saga. Anyone with a penchant for waxing poetic on The Hero’s Journey will find something to chew on watching Holmes’ cross the threshold.