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I root for Artie Lange. We all do. The comic has been a revelation portraying the character he was literally born to play, Artie Lange, on HBO‘s Crashing. Set in the world of stand-up comedy, Lange has evolved into one of the most compelling characters on the show, mostly because Artie Lange the person also just so happens to be one of the most compelling characters in reality. Playing the street-wise salty to Pete Holmes’ guilelessly sweet, the friendship between Artie and Pete is at the heart of Sunday night’s episode, which is aptly titled “Artie.” Crashing has dealt with Artie’s real-life issues with drugs before, but not like this. Blurring the lines between fiction and reality, the upcoming episode is an honest, emotionally-charged exploration of heroin addiction.
To fully grasp the importance of the episode, you need to have an idea of Lange’s complex history with drug abuse. Mandy Stadtmiller’s sensational Daily Beast interview with Artie not only provides a comprehensive summary, but it also offers a better understanding of the obsessive nature of stand-up comedy.
“A lot of people don’t understand a comic’s mind,” Lange told Stadtmiller regarding his choice to do stand-up right after leaving rehab. “People are like, ‘You’re going to jump right into stand-up?’ Yeah, that’s what I have to do. I can’t stop doing it.”
Without giving too much away, Sunday night’s episode takes a nuanced look at addiction that touches on God, religion, A.A., regret, self-loathing, and the minute-to-minute impulse to get high addicts struggle with on a daily basis. Both the tension and emotion are heightened due to the conflicting ideologies of Pete and Artie. Sweet, naive Pete thinks it’s a problem he can solve, that he can save his friend, while Artie, who grows frustrated with Pete’s simplistic outlook, knows otherwise.
“I’m a heroin addict,” Artie tells Pete during a particularly tense conversation. “I bullshit people. That’s what I do. I’m not gonna turn it around, ever.”
The episode is as real as it gets. A little less than a year ago, Artie Lange didn’t even know if he’d even return to the series after he was arrested for heroin and cocaine possession. Now, he’s delivering the performance of his life.
Crashing uses Artie’s plight to advance Season 2’s overarching story of Pete questioning his own religious convictions. You’d think complicated questions regarding spirituality and morality would be the dissonant square peg to the round hole of a series so entrenched in the world of stand-up comedy, but through some impressive creative sorcery Crashing makes it work.
The powerful final scene of Sunday night’s episode concludes with both characters clinging to their own religions; Pete desperately seeking guidance, Artie looking for escape. The best art originates from truth and few shows understand that principle and use it to their advantage as effectively and as confidently as Crashing. In my Season 2 review, I noted that Crashing is a good show that features occasional moments of greatness. This Artie Lange-centered offering doesn’t just qualify as great – it’s the best episode the series has ever produced.
Crashing airs Sunday nights at 10:30 on HBO.