Kevin James’s Netflix sitcom The Crew would feel more at home on network TV, is pitched squarely at a particular audience, and doesn’t seem interested in doing much more than the bare minimum.
If you could assemble a network sitcom with an instruction manual and pre-packed components, like IKEA furniture, whatever you came up with might look a lot like The Crew, a new live-audience multi-cam comedy starring Kevin James, and now streaming, for some reason, on Netflix. With enough goodwill presumably left over from Paul Blart: Mall Cop, James plays Kevin, the traditionalist boss of a Nascar team who finds his old-fashioned way of doing things in question when the owner retires and puts his daughter, Catherine (Jillian Mueller), in charge.
Shenanigans ensue, obviously, most of which you could predict from the above description alone. Kevin-as-Kevin is basically a pastiche of the all-American everyman, so the Ivy League-educated Catherine doesn’t just represent a change to the way the team runs but to time-honored masculinity in general. With Nascar as the backdrop, there’s no surprise when the Star-Spangled Banner starts playing, and the targets of the humour are similarly predictable – millennials, vegans, fans of technological advances and social media need not apply.
There’s nothing wrong with this sort of thing on the face of it – indeed, I laughed quite a few times during the first ten-episode season, and not ironically. But there’s just so much of it out there that any more needs justifying better than The Crew is able or willing to. Showrunner Jeff Lowell was a writer on Two and a Half Men, and you can tell; I loved that show at its peak, but if I wanted more of it I’d re-watch it. The Crew delights in its archetypes – such as braindead star racer Jake (Freddie Stroma) and nerd Amir (Dan Ahdoot) – and its undemanding style as though we haven’t had plenty of that in the meantime.
If we were in desperate need of another workplace comedy, I’m not sure Netflix would be the right place for it anyway. I’m an unashamed advocate of streaming in general, but the multi-cam network sitcom is a very specific, peculiar thing, built around the unique limitations of the format. Take them away, and you realize how integral they are to the structure and pacing. Thirty minutes doesn’t seem like much more than twenty-two, but a slight episode premise feels noticeably stretched without an ad break. That, and such easy, laidback humor and plotting don’t lend themselves well to a binge session. Even if The Crew were better, which it isn’t, Netflix still wouldn’t be the ideal home for it.
I’m all for low-effort comedies – I don’t need serious insight and introspection in everything I watch. But I watch so many sitcoms so very like this one that it’s difficult to recommend. Mileage, perhaps fittingly, will vary.