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Shane Gill’s Netflix Sitcom is spinning its wheels




Shane Gill's Netflix Sitcom is spinning its wheels

At the Cannes Film Festival this month, Francis Ford Coppola and Kevin Costner both unveiled passion projects that they decided to finance themselves after the institutional backers were initially hired. This week, three authors are making a trend — except that instead of spending his own money on a deeply personal, compelling epic, comedian Shane Gillis has created a lewd, bro-y workplace comedy set in a Pennsylvania tire shop .

Since being fired from “Saturday Night Live” — before he even started — for offensive jokes on his podcast, Gillis has become the poster child for a decentralized, grassroots attention economy that allows some entertainers to build thriving careers without the blessings of the gatekeepers. His 2021 special “Live in Austin” blew up on YouTube; the same podcast that cost him “SNL,” along with fellow comedian Matt McCusker, continues apace; Gillis even produced his own sketch comedy series, “Gilly and Keeves,” which culminated in a feature-length special last year. (You can stream it for $9.99.) Gillis has made a point of achieving all this without capitalizing on discontent over so-called cancel culture, a profitable – and predictable – route for other aspiring provocateurs. After all, with his recent success, there isn’t much for Gillis to worry about.

Recently, Gillis has also gradually returned to the mainstream, a process that would seemingly benefit his clients as much as, if not more than, himself. (Gillis is now simply too big to be ignored by emerging and/or aging platforms that could Real tap into his devoted fanbase.) Netflix released Gillis’ second special, “Beautiful Dogs,” last fall; he starred in “Bupkis,” Pete Davidson’s autobiographical, now self-destructed sitcom for Peacock; “Saturday Night Live” invited him back a few months later as host of a much-discussed, ultimately anticlimactic affair in which Gillis refused to make more than a passing mention of his fraught history with the show, let alone to rejoice in his triumphant return. Gillis’s cultural footprint still pales in comparison to his actual audience, but the asymmetry is no longer as extreme as it used to be.

“Tires” charts the evolving arc of Gillis’ career. The sitcom started in 2019 as a pilot on Gillis’ YouTube channel. (The original video was removed before the Netflix premiere.) Several years and a large chunk of revenue later, Gillis invested in filming a full six-episode season, which Netflix subsequently acquired along with an upcoming stand-up special. The result sits uncomfortably against Gillis’ DIY ethos and grander ambitions, a visibly small production distributed by the world’s largest streaming service. Concise, crass and sporadically entertaining, ‘Tires’ seems unlikely to propel Gillis into a new echelon of established fame. Instead, it’s a snapshot of the crossroads at which the co-creator, co-writer, and star finds himself: no longer the center—first by necessity, then by choice—of a self-sustaining ecosystem; not yet a star embraced by tastemakers or more casual fans.

The format of ‘Tires’ is reminiscent of a version of ‘The Bear’, stripped of racial diversity and every ounce of romance. Two cousins, the hapless manager Will (co-creator Steven Gerben) and the cheerful troublemaker Shane (Gillis), struggle to keep the family business running. Entrusted by his father, a menacing off-screen presence, with a location of his local chain of Valley Forge auto stores, Will goes through a series of harebrained schemes to boost sales. Like Gillis’ stage act, ‘Tires’ indulges in the frumpy, childish humor of bored young men, while also becoming the butt of the joke. The season opens with Will launching a cringey initiative aimed at empowering female customers: “You’ll go, girl!” – and ends with Shane strong-arming him into organizing a bikini car wash.

“Tires” keeps the old team of Gillis employees intact. “Gilly and Keeves” partner John McKeever, identified only by his last name, directs all six episodes and serves as Gerben and Gillis’ third co-creator. The cast remains unchanged from the original pilot and cast fellow veterans of the Philadelphia comedy scene Chris O’Connor and Kilah Fox as Will and Shane’s colleagues. Besides Gillis, the best-known series regular is probably stand-up Stavros Halkias, who plays district manager Dave and rose to fame on the now-defunct podcast Cum Town. The origins of “Tires” may be reminiscent of “Horace and Pete,” the grim drama that Louis CK self-financed before being banished from the spotlight, but it lacks that show’s highbrow cachet, namely an Edie Falco or a Jessica Lange in the cast.

In both locations and length – or rather, lack thereof – “Tires” shows its bootstrapped roots. Gillis’ pockets may be deep, but it’s still clear that less than two hours of material set in a handful of rooms didn’t come from a Netflix level of sources, even if viewers can find the finished product there. The style isn’t a full-blown mockumentary, but McKeever favors handheld camerawork and close-ups that (accurately) evoke the chill factor of early episodes of “The Office.” The stakes are microscopic: Will’s big, potentially business-saving idea is to offer a discount on tires to sell customers on other services after they agree to the lower price. The wistful piano theme music hints at a sentimentality that is largely not there, and indeed falls away when it is there. We’re here to watch these people crash into each other, not because we care how many pads they have to move until Will’s dad approves.

“Tires” is most fun when it delivers what it was clearly built around: Gillis’s grinning, button-pushing performance as an ex-Rust Belt jock who never made it right like his portrayer. Unlike many comedians who are put in charge of their own scripted shows, Gillis is smart enough not to cast himself as the straight man, leaving that role to Gerber while he does the fun stuff. It’s Shane arguing with Dave while he’s on the toilet, spreading a rumor that Will taught a parrot to say the N-word, and poaching the graphic designer Will hired on TaskRabbit to help a bunch of girls with fat draw upper body. We’re not supposed to approve of everything Shane says or does, but even inside the store he gets away with saying what others can’t say through sheer charm and confidence. No one minds when He calls the Italian mechanics ‘wops’. If Will does that, it’s a problem.

But when reflected by an ensemble and a fictional story, Gillis can’t be as precise in playing with the line between offensive and insightful as he is on stage. The classic Gillis joke uses his “meathead” energy (his favorite filler word is “dude”) to play with the audience’s expectations of his beliefs. (He opens “Beautiful Dogs” by turning an applause line about American exceptionalism into a bit about mass shootings.) “Tires” is less adroit and simpler. If anything, the blink-and-it’s-over season is an audition for a second Netflix-funded batch of episodes — and sure enough, the company announced a renewal before the first had even aired. Perhaps a longer run could develop the rhythms of a long-running sitcom, be more artful in its risk-taking, and more fully differentiate the characters beyond Shane and Will. For now, ‘Tires’ is a step forward, but not a complete one.

All six episodes of ‘Tires’ are now available to stream on Netflix.