Written by Owen Danoff, ScreenRant
The hilarious and at times heartbreaking Bupkis is one of Pete Davidson’s best projects to date. In a similar vein to the excellent FXX show Dave, Bupkis mines heart and humor alike for its fictionalized adaptation of its subject’s real life. The eight-episode series also boasts a fantastic guest cast that includes Joe Pesci, Steve Buscemi, and even Al Gore.
Bupkis blurs reality due to the very nature of its concept, which resulted in an interesting opportunity for production designer Joshua Petersen. In addition to location scouting across Staten Island for the external shots and overall aesthetic of Bupkis, Petersen recreated Pete Davidson’s basement and mother’s house from scratch for the series, even adding to each room to better suit the fictionalized aspects of the story. A self-proclaimed SNL lover, Petersen has also worked with other alums including Michael Che on the comedian’s own show That Damn Michael Che.
Joshua Petersen spoke with Screen Rant about the myth of Pete Davidson, exploring Staten Island, and more Bupkis set secrets.
Screen Rant: Because this is both autobiographical and fictional, how much of what you're using is a set, and how much is an actual location?
Joshua Petersen: This show itself is a fun game of "guess the build". There's some stuff in there that is real, and then there's some stuff that we just built, that I had a really good time building. That's kind of my bread and butter as a designer; I love constructing sets from scratch, even if it's just a domestic space. I love building that stuff, because I love introducing the detail into every aspect of it and getting as granular as possible for our stage builds.
We built Pete's basement and the upstairs of that house. Although I went to those locations--I went to Amy's house, got a look around, and went in the basement and saw all that stuff--these aren't places that are very conducive for shooting a television show. The basement itself is this storied, almost mythological idea in people's heads, so it's a really fun exercise to see the real one and then just be like, "Let's make the myth that's in my head a reality," and start putting that to paper. [It was fun] working with my team to flesh that out; we went pretty ham on that, and it was really fun. I was just really thrilled with where we got with that; I think everybody did a really beautiful job.
And then [in] connecting that to the upstairs of the house, to Amy's side of it, it's like, "Where do we find the family roots here, and where do we ground this in reality?" Those two sets speak to each other really well; I think there's really good communication between the color stories there, and [I like] the sort of conflicting but congruent vibes of the two spaces.
Other than that, we were all over Staten Island. We found a lot of spaces that are real. That's also a really fun exercise in the research process of something like this. It's like, "I'm going to go wander around Staten Island and see what I find, and just drink in what I'm seeing." That kind of research informs how our graphic design works; the show logo is kind of like a play on the Staten Island Ferry, and a lot of our design comes from old signs that I stumbled upon just wandering around. [I looked at] old ghost ads, and the peeling paint aspect of Staten Island where you get these advertisements or signage from the late '80s, early '90s that has been kind of sun-baked for decades. That really comes into play in the show's design, especially when we go into the flashback moments, and how that world gets built out.
Jumping back to what you were saying about the basement being a mythological space. Were there specific things that you were excited about putting in that set as a way to contribute to that?
Bupkis is a new comedy following Pete Davidson as he attempts to work through unique family dynamics and the complexities of fame to form meaningful relationships. The raw, semi-autobiographical series stars Davidson, Edie Falco, and Joe Pesci alongside a star-studded supporting cast in a show that straddles reality and absurdity to best represent what it is to be Pete Davidson. Welcome to Bupkis.