July 9, 2020

Off the Beaten Path | Crashing

Hey everyone! After a week of working on various projects ranging from podcasting to setting up a quarantine friendly film shoot, it’s time to hop back into the saddle for a fresh installment of Off the Beaten Path. This time, I’m once again going in blind – try as it might, Spicy City won’t scare me away from reviewing shows I’ve never seen before. Like how I reviewed Danger 5 after reviewing Love, Death & Robots, I’m also dipping back into the comedy well. This time, it’s for a show I didn’t even know existed a week ago. This show, a quick 6 episode breeze, is a British production called Crashing.

So What is Crashing?

So just what in the hell is Crashing anyways? Well, Crashing was a Channel 4 show (though here in the states it’s a Netflix original) that aired in early 2016. It was the brainchild of Phoebe Waller-Bridge who created, wrote, and starred in the show, just like her other 2016 offering, the little known Fleabag.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge

The premise of the show is pretty straight forward. It follows six individuals who live in an abandoned hospital as property guardians, plus one more who gets trapped in their orbit. As property guardians, they’re able to live near rent-free, but with several conditions (which they routinely ignore). Each episode follows the pairings that are established in the first episode as they deal with work issues, potential eviction, and growing interpersonal relations (aka everyone banging everyone). So, you know, typical sitcom shenanigans.

The story is kicked off when Lulu (played by Waller-Bridge), a quirky 20-something with no job and no money seeks out her childhood friend Anthony (played by Damien Molony). She finds him at the hospital, where he lives with his high-strung fiance Kate (played by Louise Ford). 

The rest of the main cast includes: Sam (played by Jonathan Bailey), the hypersexual casanova wannabe going through major changes in his life; Fred (played by Amit Shah), the young gay man who struggles with standing up for himself that finds himself as Sam’s new best friend; Melody (played by Julie Dray), the French artist who’s the personification of a free spirit; and Colin (played by Adrian Scarborough), Kate’s co-worker who’s going through a rough divorce who finds himself as Melody’s new muse and the only main cast member who doesn’t live in the hospital.  

Like Fleabag, Crashing was based on some of Waller-Bridge’s pre-existing plays. In this case, it was two separate plays. One was based on the Anthony-Lulu pair and the other one was the Sam-Fred pair. Unlike Fleabag, Crashing never got a second series. Instead, all we have are six, half-hour episodes of quirky Brits being quirky.

So Why Crashing?

Full disclosure, I’m only a recent convert to the Church of Waller-Bridge. I only got around to watching Fleabag back in April after some false starts. I tend to have issues with persistent 4th wall breakage, so I had a hard time getting into Fleabag at first. Once I muscled through the first few episodes, something clicked. Next thing I know, it’s the next day (I want to say a Saturday?) sometime in the early afternoon, and I’m already done with the whole show. To be fair it wasn’t hard, what with Fleabag having a combined runtime of around 5 hours (thank you British Brevity). Even then, out of all the new stuff I’ve been watching during this quarantine, Fleabag has stuck out to me as one of the best.

The Terror S1 aka what I needed a mental break from

So fast forward a month, and I’m looking for something light to watch. I had just re-listened to The Shining (true horror classic) and listened to Doctor Sleep (not as much) for the first time, both on audiobook. I then followed those Stephen King horror tomes by rewatching season one of The Terror (fantastic show by the way, but I think it’s a bit too high profile for Off the Beaten Path as of now) into the weekend.

Safe to say, it was Saturday night and I needed something to make me laugh. Lo and behold, there I am, scrolling through Netflix and I think I see Waller-Bridge’s face on a thumbnail for a show called Crashing. After a quick internet search, I realized two things. First, this would be the perfect lighter show to help get the images of generational abuse and cannibalistic crewmen out of my head. Second, I decided it would be perfect for my next Off the Beaten Path review.

My Thoughts on Crashing

I bet that while you’re reading this you have one question, “why was it that Fleabag catapulted Waller-Bridge to worldwide acclaim while Crashing ended up as little more than a footnote on Waller-Bridge’s IMDB page?” I mean, I was asking myself the same question when I first found this show. Well after watching the show, I think I have an answer. 

Crashing, while well made and well written, just isn’t as interesting as Fleabag.

Fleabag aka the other PWB show from 2016

So what do I mean by that? For the most part, I think Crashing is just rather vanilla as a show. For one, it’s one roommate-com about fun 20-30 somethings that are dealing with life in a sea of many. That’s not to say roommate-coms are inherently bad, far from it. It’s more that Crashing, beyond Waller-Bridge’s authorial voice, it doesn’t do much to distinguish itself from the countless other similar shows out there.

For another, it didn’t help that Crashing was the least surprising show that I’ve reviewed for Off the Beaten Path, and that includes the stuff I’ve seen before. In this case, I predicted the outcomes of all the pairings after Episode 1.1 was done, and without fail those predictions came true. If anything, the only mystery to me was whether or not Colin would succumb to Melody’s desires. Otherwise, everything was telegraphed from the very beginning.

Lastly, it also didn’t help that the pairings, based on already familiar sitcom archetypes mind you, fell into one of two types of archetypal setups that you see a lot in sitcoms. At the forefront, there’s the love triangle between Anthony, Kate, and Lulu. As soon as all three were in the same room, the three fell into the classic Archie-Betty-Veronica dynamic. In particular, Anthony is the bland Archie, Kate is the demure Betty, and Lulu is the wild and sexual Veronica. The only subversions there is that Lulu was the girl next door instead of Kate. Otherwise, the tropes were played straight enough (and the onscreen chemistry, can’t underestimate that) that the writing was on the wall immediately after Lulu arrived.

In the background, the other pairings fell pretty neatly into a lonely man-manic pixie dream girl dynamic. If you’re curious about who’s who in these dynamics, check out the character bios I wrote and you’ll understand almost immediately. 

The saving grace with these pairings is that Waller-Bridge gives them more to go on and makes them more interesting than the shallowness the tropes imply.

Consider Sam. While he may be Fred’s MPDG by forcing Fred out of his shell, he has his own arc. Namely, coming to terms with his newfound sexuality while dealing with the grief from the death of his father. With Melody, she doesn’t exactly grow into anything new. She starts off as a (pseudo?) french artist who likes to live life to the fullest, and ends exactly there. Instead, we learn about how she ticks as a character. Namely, her having Colin as a muse is her way of processing issues she had with her father through her art, especially as Colin is only the latest in a long line of muses that bear a resemblance to her father. 

Fred and Sam being Fred and Sam

Seeing these in action makes me wish we got more with the main triangle. Compared to the beta pairings, not much happens there. Kate gets the most, what with trying to become less uptight and more fun to passive-aggressively keep Anthony’s attention away from Lulu. Lulu herself is pretty static. She starts off as a quirky, sex obsessed millennial, and ends more or less the same place character-wise. Anthony just gets more confused and straight up possessive over both ladies as time goes on.  

Now don’t get me wrong, Crashing is by no means a bad show. Out of the three comedy shows I’ve reviewed for Off the Beaten Path, Crashing is easily the most consistent. Sure, it may not reach the heights of say Lizard Soldiers of the Third Reich but it never approaches the lows of Un Sacco Di Natale. Think of it this way. Crashing is good enough that the flaws stand out more than if it were just varying degrees of bad. 

It should come as no surprise then that if there’s a big reason why Crashing is rather consistent, it’s Waller-Bridge’s writing. Good lord can she mine humor out of mundane situations and character interactions. One of my absolute favorite laughs was in Episode 1.2, with the awkward song and dance Lulu and Kate play when it comes to having lunch with Anthony during their now shared workday. After many false claims business lunches and having to run off, they have this silent conversation while Kate is eating at a cafe, and Lulu stumbles on the scene. That whole scene, even though there’s not a word said, was one of the single funniest things I’ve seen in recent memory.

Kate and Anthony serving dinner

Sure, the characters are rather static, especially when compared to Fleabag. Doesn’t change the fact these seven were fun as hell to watch. Like you may not be getting into that deep psychological dive into the psyches of the characters and personal growth as we get in Fleabag, but man can this cast play off each other in an entertaining way. Again, this is Waller-Bridge’s skills as a playwright shining through. 

In a way, my complaint about this show being so predictable is partly based on the strength of the chemistry involved. Like, as soon as Lulu and Anthony started laughing it up and flirting like old times, you knew they were going to bone at some point because they’re just having so much goddamn fun together. I’d put it up there with the first time Ted saw Robin in How I Met Your Mother in fact. When Sam and Fred started bonding, you knew they were going to be boning at some point. It didn’t even matter if Sam considered himself straight at the time. In other words, the characters work so well off each other their fates might as well have been written in the stars. 

The rest of the aspects of the show are fine, but not overly noteworthy. Like the cinematography is fine for a single-camera sitcom. The soundtrack and the score are quirky yet spirited. The direction, courtesy of George Kane (who directed every episode) is fine TV directing, nothing extraordinary but it gets the job done efficiently. All in all, it’s a well enough made show to not be bad but not spectacular.

My Thoughts on the Episodes

Episode 1: Episode 1.1
Lulu meeting most of the main cast

As I’ve repeatedly harped on, pilot episodes need to do double duty; not only do they have to be entertaining in themselves but they have to set up what the show is about and sell you on it. With that in mind, I think Episode 1.1 is fine as a pilot. We get good introductions to all the characters with memorable establishing scenes (Lulu’s and Sam’s come to mind here), plus a fun set-up to get characters together while exploring the world of the hospital aka Sam’s party. There are good laughs and good chemistry abound. Once you watch Episode 1.1, you’ll know what you’re in for, for better and for worse.

For a pilot episode, it could be better (I Danced For Hitler! is still the comedic gold standard for Off the Beaten Path), but you’d be hard-pressed to do worse.

My Recommendation: Recommend

Episode 2: Episode 1.2
Kate introducing Lulu to her new job responsibilities at Something Events

Episode 1.2 is easily my favorite episode of Crashing. The jokes are on point, just one emotional roller coaster of hilarity after another. Like, I’m going to return to this episode at some point to legit study how to become a better comedy writer. We get some character development to add dimension to our so far archetypal main cast, like Sam dragging Fred to his father’s funeral because he needed a friend. All in all it’s a rock-solid episode. 

If I have any complaints, it’s that the story lines are fairly disparate. None of the pairings interact meaningfully outside of their pairings. That said, it’s a pretty minor complaint. 

More so than Episode 1.1, Episode 1.2 is a good litmus test. If you aren’t vibing with Crashing by this point, you likely aren’t going to like what follows.

My Recommendation: Highly Recommend

Episode 3: Episode 1.3
Everyone gathering for curry and unresolved sexual tension

After watching Episode 1.3, I imagine this was the episode that was most inside Waller-Bridge’s wheelhouse. Like, if it weren’t for the quick scenes out in the bathrooms, I could see this happening on stage. And you know what? It goddamn slaps. A great example of ratcheting up comedic tension through sheer unspoken (at first) awkwardness, what with three messy love triangles that get messier and drunker over this three-course curry dinner. Secrets are revealed over impromptu ukulele singing, awkward attempts to fit in abound, the curry is at risk of becoming a projectile. It’s a riot. An awkward riot, but a riot none the less.

My Recommendation: Highly Recommend 

Episode 4: Episode 1.4
Everyone getting into a topless paint battle

After two great episodes, we’re back down to Earth with Episode 1.4. This episode has some great set pieces, if that’s a thing in a sitcom. For instance, there’s the painting session between Melody (by this point she has become my favorite character because how can you not love her) and Kate that turns into a full-blown topless playful paint fight. There’s also Lulu dealing with the consequences of wearing onesie overalls while seeing a realtor.

We also get a better look at how Kate views herself. Side note – Kate sounds like she needs a therapist because of her lack of comfort with herself and her actions are reading like a healthy cocktail of depression and anxiety. Someone please help her.

Otherwise, this episode felt pretty standard for Crashing. It’s quirky and fun, but besides Kate’s mental landscape and her realization at the end of the episode, it’s middle of the road Crashing at best.

My Recommendation: Recommend

Episode 5: Episode 1.5
Kate visiting Anthony at work for damage control

I’m not quite sure what to think of Episode 1.5, to be honest.

On the one hand, it’s full of good laughs and has some of the strongest narrative drive so far. In this case, everyone in the hospital has been served eviction notices, so everyone is scrambling for new living arrangements. Relationships are broken, others are questioned.

On the other hand, it feels like it’s invalidating a lot of Episode 1.4. For one, Lulu is once again homeless not even an episode after settling her housing situation. Plus, Kate is conveniently denying her realization last episode (that she’s pretending to be in love with Anthony) and trying to plow forward as if it’s business as usual. It’s weird.

In a vacuum Episode 1.5 is fine. With the other episodes, not so much.

My Recommendation: Recommend With Caveats

Episode 6: Episode 1.6
One last gathering on the couch before everyone leaves

Here in Episode 1.6, everything is coming to a predictable close. Everyone is largely moved out of the hospital. After a day of searching for a missing Kate, Anthony and Lulu finally hook up after one hell of a misunderstanding involving Kate’s coworker. Sam, frantic after being unable to reach Fred (who’s been hanging out with Kate the whole time), essentially declares his love for the newly single man and they become an item. Melody and Colin don’t become a romantic thing, but Colin is learning to stand up for himself. Everything has fallen into place. Everyone is moving on. Other than one plot point (aka Kate confronting Lulu and Anthony after they hook up), the narrative of Crashing has been wrapped up in a nice bow.

So does it feel earned? My best answer is “kinda?”. To be honest, I feel like it would have been more earned if the outcomes weren’t so telegraphed from the very beginning. Is it satisfying? That I’d say yes. Will it be remembered as one of the best series finales out there? No. That said, it doesn’t leave a bad after taste like so many others out there, so in that sense it’s a victory.

My Recommendation: Recommend   

In Conclusion

So that’s Crashing for you all. If it seems like I’m being overly harsh, it’s honestly because of prior expectations I had for the show. After joining the Church of Waller-Bridge, I expected Crashing to be in a similar vein as Fleabag; a darkly humorous examination of a broken individual trying to navigate life. Instead, I got a competently made, if completely unsurprising, roommate-com in the vein of classics like Friends and How I Met Your Mother with Waller-Bridge’s comedic sensibilities. In other words, a good offering if you’re looking for that Friends type energy, but not if you’re looking for that Fleabag-style soul searcher. So if you’re going to spend an afternoon in the hospital with the Crashing crew, just keep in mind it’s not going to be a proto-Fleabag tragicomedy, and you’ll be all set for a fun afternoon.

My Recommendation: Recommend

If you’re interested in checking out Crashing for yourself, you can find it on Netflix here. If you’re not sure just yet, here’s a quick trailer.

Joseph MacMaster

Writer extraordinaire in progress who hangs out with the Chicago Film Scene crew. I screenwrite for my fellow CFS filmmakers. I also write TV and movie reviews, and am a co-host/main writer of the Chicago Film Scene: Live! podcast.

View all posts by Joseph MacMaster →

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