The Crew

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Kevin James in The Crew.
Kevin James in The Crew.
Photo: Eric Liebowitz/Netflix


The Crew




2/3 Stars


Life in the garage goes off track for a NASCAR crew chief and his racing team when a new boss shakes things up.


In the golden era of sitcoms, family-friendly funnies were recorded with real-time feedback from live audiences, filling your TV with laughter and heartfelt aww's. Hyper-stereotypical characters leaned in on their cliched characterisations in ridiculous situations - a grumpy dad, an overprotective mom, rebellious or nerdy teenagers and precocious kids. Sprinkle in the 'fun' uncle or aunt, a few token family friends, an 'interesting' background to drive the narrative, and you've got the recipe for a classic sitcom.

Today, however, the laugh tracks have become stale, the stereotypes take a turn for the offensive, and the jokes don't really hit the right spot without nostalgia goggles. The traditional sitcom format has moved on with the times, many tackling difficult topics that used to be tiptoed around in the past with candid, slightly more nihilistic humour. But somehow, the old format still lives on in new shows like The Crew, ironically streaming on the disruptive Netflix platform instead of premiering between the death throes of a traditional televised broadcast.

The sitcom - complete with laugh tracks, awkward pauses for said fake laughs and the stalest humour that might appeal to your grandparents - focuses on a Nascar team adjusting to a new millennial boss trying to modernise their business. Knowing that Kevin James is spearheading this mess as the pit chief should tell you all you need to know about what kind of jokes to expect.

The characters are a mix of southern cowboys, wilful idiots and an uptight boss who is continuously undermined while also bulldozing over the suggestions of experienced employees. There's constant friction between the new and old, and the tension is overused as comedic fodder for a hackneyed script. Outside of James, you might only recognise comedian Dan Ahdoot and character actor Gary Anthony Williams (who is ironically almost unrecognisable), while the rest of the cast is pretty unknown to mainstream audiences in South Africa. Most of them are pretty unlikeable characters besides the energetically positive Beth (Sarah Stiles), although I do think some effort was at least made with the women characters who could have easily just become objectified props in a show about a male-dominated sport.

I have to admit, though, that I am pretty much the opposite of the target audience - a non-American millennial woman with quite liberal views that knows nothing about car racing - whereas this is obviously more geared towards white 'Merican patriot men with a more conservative outlook on life and a gearhead in some capacity. In fact, the show goes out of its way to demean people like me. I believe millennials and gen z's are the first to laugh at themselves, but the bashing of our generations has also become quite boring, and that kind of generational humour can't carry an entire series. The Crew weirdly stops short of being offensive, as if someone has snipped all of that out (probably with the help of some keen-eyed and expensive consultants), but it somehow makes the show's political correctness seem fake and forced.

I honestly would have loved a Nascar comedy series as the sport lends itself to generate some great stories that could have been both funny and impactful, more in the vein of something like Brooklyn Nine-Nine. The Crew feels more like a lazy attempt by Netflix to appeal to more conservative, red-blooded American viewers, especially if you consider their catalogue is dominated by left-leaning content. Instead, The Crew is a stark reminder that the old sitcom format is a dead horse, and no amount of flogging will ever bring it back to life.


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