Another Day at the Track
Kevin James is funny in The Crew, but the NASCAR-themed workplace comedy is uneven.
Kevin James is a very funny man. There are times in his new show The Crew—available on Netflix—where he cracks a joke and his co-stars seem to genuinely double over at what was probably an improvised line. But while Kevin James is a very funny man, The Crew, sadly, is not a very funny show.
The Crew follows a NASCAR racing team, with crew chief Kevin Gibson (James) serving as the protagonist, as they’re forcibly modernized by new CEO Catherine Spencer (Jillian Mueller) after she takes over from her racing-legend father Bobby Spencer (Bruce McGill). A NASCAR garage is not your typical workplace, but James said he was attracted to The Crew because he’d never done a workplace comedy before.
“I didn’t want to do necessarily a Talladega Nights take on [NASCAR]. … It’s just a workplace comedy, it’s about relationships, it’s about characters,” James told The Dispatch.
The show is centered around the relationship between good ol’ boy Kevin and Stanford-educated Catherine Spencer, who butt heads over their different ideas for the team. The blue collar vs. white collar conflict feels like it was designed to capture the class zeitgeist of the past few years, but to the show’s credit, it’s more interested in finding humor in this conflict than acting as a self-serious criticism of ideologies or worldviews. Alas, that humor is inconsistent and overly reliant on clichés and worn-out jokes, buoyed by a grating laugh track.
The writing problem exists beyond the dialogue: Plotlines are thin and some seasonlong arcs seem only half-planned. For example, the burgeoning feelings between Kevin and office manager Beth Paige (Sarah Stiles) feels like they were added as an afterthought: there’s no buildup or even the barest hint at the possibility of romantic future between the pair until episode 7—in a season that has only 10 episodes.
There are some things about the show that work: James manages to shine even with weak material. James had high praise for his co-stars too.
“I knew that first taping, that first night that we recorded, it was just unbelievable, it was just seamless. And I felt like we’d already been season three, where you hit the groove with these people,” said James.
He’s right. The casting was well done, with Stiles and Gary Anthony Williams as chief engineer Chuck Stubbs providing two particularly strong performances. And their chemistry improves as the show progresses. But no matter how hard cast members triy to make The Crew work, their comedic instincts and good acting just aren’t enough to overcome trite writing.
Things do improve, with some more consistent and genuine humor coming in the later episodes, but it’s a long road to get to limited payoff. Perhaps if The Crew gets renewed for a second season it will be able to build off of the more successful final three episodes.