Kevin James is a big deal in the Bentley household. “The King of Queens” is my husband’s favorite show of all-time. We’ve seen nearly every one of his movies, and we’ve even seen his stand-up act.
So when Netflix announced a new comedy series starring James set in the world of NASCAR, one of our favorite sports, I was pretty excited. But let’s face it. Kevin James’ projects can be a little uneven, as evidenced by his last series, “Kevin Can Wait.”
Thankfully for all of us James fans, there is absolutely nothing uneven about “The Crew.” The show is hilarious, with fully fleshed out characters and a solid supporting cast to play them. And, best of all, you don’t have to know anything about NASCAR to join the fun.
James is Kevin, the longtime crew chief for Bobby Spencer Racing, a middle-of-the-pack NASCAR team. The team gets a big shake-up when the owner hands control of the team over to his daughter, Catherine (Jillian Mueller). Catherine immediately sets out to make changes to improve the team, including looking to replace the driver, Jake (Freddie Stroma). Also sweating out the changes are Chuck (Gary Anthony Williams), the team’s mechanical wizard; Amir (Dan Ahdoot), the chief engineer; and Beth (Sarah Stiles), the office manager.
In the premiere, Catherine’s Stanford education and new ideas immediately clash with Kevin’s old-school NASCAR experience. Social media, smartphones and emails are all a little foreign to Kevin, and Catherine taking over the team forces him to adapt. Also, Jake has to prove himself as a driver while not trying to flirt his way into Catherine’s good graces.
There is a lot to like about “Crew” right from the jump. The first episode is one of the strongest comedy pilots I’ve seen in some time as the characters are defined very quickly, thanks to some solid writing and an extremely likeable and talented cast. James may be the headliner, but the star here is definitely Stroma as the loveable airhead Jake, who steals every single scene in which he appears.
“Crew” also excels by not going straight to NASCAR stereotypes for its laughs. They’re not completely absent from the show, but the majority of laughs comes from the characters and their personal situations. And there’s a hysterical bit in the premiere with Kevin and his smartphone struggles.
For NASCAR fans, there will be some moments that will make you wince, like when the office manager sits on the pit box on race day, but there is enough NASCAR participation to give it a true authentic feel. And the cameos by NASCAR drivers, especially Ryan Blaney, are extremely funny. But while “Crew” is a little more fun for NASCAR fans, it is hilarious enough for non-fans to enjoy.
Honestly, I’m not sure why we haven’t had a NASCAR-related show before now. Maybe NASCAR was just waiting for a show as good as this one to come around the track.
“The Crew” is available now on Netflix.