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'The Crew' review: Kevin James'  sitcom is more like an overstuffed commercial for NASCAR

Kevin James as Kevin in "The Crew."

Kevin James as Kevin in "The Crew." Credit: NETFLIX/Eric Liebowitz

SITCOM "The Crew"

WHERE Streaming on Netflix

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Kevin Gibson (Kevin James) is crew chief for the NASCAR Bobby Spencer Racing team, comprised of a bunch of other lovable track rats like office manager Beth Paige (Sarah Stiles, "Billions"), nerdy top engineer Amir Lajani (Dan Ahdoot, "Cobra Kai"), and top mechanic Chuck Stubbs (veteran stand-up/ voice actor Gary Anthony Williams). The team has hit a rough patch because top driver Jake Martin (Freddie Stroma, "Bridgerton," "UnREAL") has lost his mojo. The team's owner (Bruce McGill,"Animal House") decides to bail, and in his place, appoints his daughter as boss. Catherine Spencer (Jillian Mueller, who starred in stage runs of "Dirty Dancing" and "Bye Bye Birdie) is tough, smart and wants to win. Uh oh.

Along with NASCAR, James (now with a shaved head) is one of the producers of the series — which taped at Gold Coast Studios in Bethpage.

MY SAY Like Stony Brook-raised James himself, "The Crew '' is about as critic-proof as hot dogs and Bud (more on Bud below). You could take a flamethrower to this and it'd still be standing when the smoke clears. No amount of rhetorical fancy footwork could even begin to shade opinions, much less change them. It is what it is and James is who he is. Love all that, you'll love all this.

As usual, he plays to type here, or the same type since "The King of Queens." Stuff is gonna change — tastes, food, styles, language, women, men, the culture — but he remains unchanged and almost unbowed. That's at the heart of his stand-up, too, of the overweight everyguy who's just trying to keep it together in a world overrun by pushy millennials and PC scolds. Mostly he's just trying to eat food that doesn't have words like "artisan," "GMO-free" or (uugh) "chiffonade" in front of its name.

His character's lineage goes all the way back to "The Honeymooners" and even before — the husband whose wife stands off to the side, arms folded, with a look of bemused tolerance for that man-child in her life.

There's no wife in "The Crew'' but there are potential love interests — he's just too lovable a schlub not to have them — although the limits of this formula were tested when "Kevin Can Wait" killed off his sitcom wife (Erinn Hayes) so it could reunite him with Leah Remini. Ratings plunged and the show got canceled. Not so lovable after all, but you can be sure "The Crew'' won't make the same mistake twice.

"The Crew'' is a workplace sitcom masquerading as a family one. Kevin's still the "dad" so to speak but answers to a higher authority who, in her words, will take "Fred Flintstone kicking and screaming into the 21st century." Members of the seasoned cast — all good and energetic — know their place in the family constellation too.

What's genuinely unique here is the role of NASCAR, which has turned "The Crew'' into a ten-episode commercial for the sport and its many sponsors. Most eventually find a way on-screen, while Busch (the official beer), Budweiser and Stella Artois (also an AB InBev brand) get prominent placement during the bar scenes — so prominent that when conversation in one scene pivots to healthy food habits, a bucket of Bud Ultra Light is delivered to the table.

Product placement is old-school marketing but so crudely deployed on "The Crew" that it becomes its own running joke. A tiresome one at that.

BOTTOM LINE James fans will love this overstuffed commercial for NASCAR and its many sponsors.

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