Pete Holmes is a fairly cerebral comic, a presence whose jokes consistently feel carefully thought through. His recent HBO sitcom “Crashing,” which ended in 2019, took a subject that is easy to lampoon — a comedian’s quest for recognition and success — and took it seriously, treating it with real sensitivity.
There’s something particularly dispiriting, then, about “How We Roll,” a new sitcom starring Holmes that’s lacking any semblance of his voice or his wit. Indeed, “How We Roll,” based on the life of the professional bowler Tom Smallwood, can feel at times like a satirical device from “Crashing,” a sitcom Holmes’ character might have tried to appear on only to learn a valuable lesson from not booking it. In our reality, though, “How We Roll” simply adds up to a waste of a lot of very talented people’s energy.
Those people include Katie Lowes, the “Scandal” standout, and Julie White, a Tony winner, who respectively play wife and mother to Holmes’ Tom. After Tom is laid off from his factory job, Lowes’ Jen encourages him to convert his hobby of bowling into a career. Much of Lowes’ work in the season’s early going is encouragement, with an occasional sideline in grumbling mini-arguments with White’s Helen, a curmudgeon and self-styled teller of hard truths. The writers can seem to coast on Lowes’ inherent likability and White’s ace comic backhand in scenes between this pair: There’s no verve or spark in the jokes, which come to feel like a rehash of the “Everybody Loves Raymond” in-law dynamic.
And Tom’s bowling career feels insufficiently established, not least because we don’t actually see much bowling: Tom hangs out at the alley chatting with its owner (Chi McBride), but there’s little sense of what it feels like for Tom to be as talented as he is, or what kind of practice has made him so competitive. This is what “How We Roll” is supposedly about, and yet bowling drifts away as a subject — it’s unclear what about it Tom even likes. At first, the show seems benignly low-key; it comes eventually to feel underthought, as if the writers are relying on viewers to make connections and draw inferences that aren’t there on screen.
All of which is a disappointment for observers of Holmes’ career, and for those who believe a healthy TV ecosystem includes strong network comedies. “How We Roll” feels autopiloted, going through the motions of how a family sitcom should look — an especially strange thing for a series with a talented comic voice in the room. Nothing stands out as especially grievous, because nothing about it is daring at all. To call it a gutter ball would suggest that the writers had tried something big and missed: What “How We Roll” brings to mind, instead, is risk-free bumper bowling.
“How We Roll” premieres Thursday, March 31 at 9:30 p.m.
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