TV sitcoms have used sports as a backdrop for decades. MTV’s long-running "Celebrity Death Match" was a stop-motion animated series ridiculously pitting two or more well-known personalities in a boxing ring. Coach lasted for nine seasons and a total of 200 episodes between 1989 and 1997; Craig T. Nelson played an titular Minnesota State’s head football coach.
One of the more recent sitcoms to hit streaming services is “The Crew,” a half hour-long Netflix original series starring actor-comedian Kevin James (“Hitch,” “King of Queens”). The premise centers around a North Carolina-based NASCAR race team.
James (“Hitch,” “King of Queens”) plays the team’s crew chief struggling adapt after the owner hands over the reins to his inexperienced Stanford-educated daughter.
Obviously, much of the humor and tension pulls from the tension of James’ character — ironically named Kevin — and the new owner, Catherine (Jillian Mueller). While many of the technical changes Catherine makes innovate how the team races, the episodes mostly focus on the clashing personalities.
In familiar fashion, Kevin is the set-in-his-ways sedentary character who’s been doing his job for so long that he’s become complacent. The team is successful, but there have been some recent upsets at the start of the series.
Catherine on the other hand is a tech-reliant, business-savvy millennial with a grating personality. She’s headstrong, sure, but rather than adapting her strategies to an already working model, she makes sudden changes that (almost literally) throw a wrench in the engine of success.
This schtick gets old quickly over a ten-episode first season. Thankfully the other characters add more rev in this show’s engine. Gary Anthony Williams (“Undercover Brother”) plays Chuck the car chief and Dan Ahdoot (“Cobra Kai”) is Amir the chief engineer.
Chuck is a sardonic, pull-no-punches mechanic while Amir is a nervous, soft-spoken man who feels more like a tagalong character. Broadway veteran Sarah Stiles’ performance as marketing manager Beth rounds out the core cast; she’s a sweet, perky go-getter who’s tomboyish enough to be just one of the guys while still being a woman independent of the gang.
The most entertaining character is Jake Martin, the team’s driver played by Freddie Stroma (“Harry Potter” series, “Pitch Perfect”). The British actor hilariously plays a dunce with a winning smile and race record which nicely juxtaposes the more dramatic roles he’s taken on in his filmography.
The cast does have some decent chemistry with one another and they play their roles well. But the comedy in and of itself is stale. Many jokes are variations on those seen in more well-known sitcoms which is a shame because comedy should be the vehicle for pushing the humor envelope. No pun intended.
The problem is we live in a world refusing to crack actual jokes out of fear that anybody and everybody will be “offended.” Comedy is already naturally offensive and rightfully so because it objectively reflects on and satirizes society’s farces.
Regardless, “The Crew” is enjoyable. Especially if you’re a fan of Kevin James and his sense of humor.