Shane Gillis Netflix Sitcom ‘Tires’ Is a Self-Funded Showcase That Spins Its Wheels: TV Review (2024)

At this month’s Cannes Film Festival, Francis Ford Coppola and Kevin Costner each unveiled passion projects they opted to finance themselves after institutional backers initially passed. This week, three auteurs make a trend — except instead of putting his own funds toward a deeply personal, sweeping epic, comedian Shane Gillis has made a lewd, bro-y workplace comedy set at a Pennsylvania tire shop.

Since getting fired from “Saturday Night Live” —before he’d 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 gatekeepers’ blessings. His 2021 special “Live in Austin” blew up on YouTube; the same podcast that cost him “SNL,” co-hosted with fellow comic Matt McCusker, continues apace; Gillis even self-produced his own sketch comedy series, “Gilly and Keeves,” which culminated with a feature-length special last year. (You can stream it for $9.99.) Gillis has made a point of accomplishing all this without capitalizing on grievance over so-called cancel culture, a profitable — and predictable — lane for other aspiring provocateurs. After all, with his recent success, there’s not much for Gillis to be aggrieved about.

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Recently, Gillis has also started to gradually reenter the mainstream, a process seemingly poised to benefit his patrons as much as, if not more than, himself. (Gillis is now simply too big to be ignored by burgeoning and/or aging platforms that could really use his devoted fanbase.) Netflix released Gillis’ second special, “Beautiful Dogs,” last fall; he acted in “Bupkis,” Pete Davidson’s autobiographical, now self-scrapped sitcom for Peaco*ck; “Saturday Night Live” invited him back to host a few months later, a much-ballyhooed, ultimately anticlimactic affair in which Gillis declined to make more than a passing mention of his fraught history with the show, let alone gloat over his triumphant return. Gillis’ cultural footprint still pales in comparison to his actual audience, but the asymmetry is no longer as extreme as it once was.

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Tires” charts the evolving arc of Gillis’ career. The sitcom began, in 2019, as a pilot on Gillis’ YouTube channel. (The original video was pulled ahead of the Netflix premiere.) Several years and a great deal of income later, Gillis invested in filming a full, six-episode season, which Netflix then acquired along with an upcoming stand-up special. The result awkwardly straddles Gillis’ DIY ethos and grander aspirations, a visibly shoestring production distributed by the world’s largest streaming service. Concise, crass and sporadically amusing, “Tires” seems unlikely to propel Gillis into a new echelon of establishment acclaim. 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-sufficient ecosystem; not yet a star embraced by tastemakers or more casual fans.

The “Tires” setup recalls a version of “The Bear” stripped of racial diversity and any shred of romanticism. Two cousins, hapless manager Will (co-creator Steven Gerben) and gleeful sh*t-stirrer Shane (Gillis), struggle to keep the family blue-collar business afloat. Entrusted by his father, a looming offscreen presence, with a location of his local chain of Valley Forge auto shops, Will runs through a succession of harebrained schemes designed to boost sales. Like Gillis’ stage act, “Tires” indulges the fratty, puerile humor of bored young men while also making it the butt of the joke. The season starts with Will launching a cringey initiative aimed at empowering female customers — “You’ll go, girl!” —and ends with Shane strong-arming him into hosting a bikini carwash.

“Tires” keeps Gillis’ longtime crew of collaborators intact. “Gilly and Keeves” partner John McKeever, credited only by his surname, directs all six episodes and serves as Gerben and Gillis’ third co-creator. The cast remains unchanged from the original pilot, casting fellow veterans of the Philadelphia comedy scene Chris O’Connor and Kilah Fox as Will and Shane’s coworkers. Besides Gillis, the best-known series regular is likely stand-up Stavros Halkias, who plays district manager Dave and rose to prominence on the now-defunct podcast Cum Town. The origins of “Tires” may recall “Horace and Pete,” the grim drama Louis CK bankrolled himself prior to his own exile from the spotlight, but it lacks that show’s highbrow cachet of having an Edie Falco or a Jessica Lange in its cast.

In both locations and length — or rather, lack of either —“Tires” shows its bootstrapped roots. Gillis’ pockets may be deep, but it’s still clear less than two hours of total material taking place in a handful of rooms didn’t arise from a Netflix level of resources, even if that’s where viewers can find the finished product. The style isn’t full mockumentary, but McKeever favors hand-held camerawork and close-up shots that (accurately) invoke the wince factor of early episodes of “The Office.” The stakes are microscopic: Will’s big, potentially business-saving idea is offering a discount on tires to upsell customers on other services after they’ve agreed to the lower price. The wistful piano theme music hints at a sentimentality that largely isn’t there, and indeed falls flat when it arrives. We’re here to watch these people dunk on each other, not because we care about how many brake pads they need to move until Will’s dad approves of him.

“Tires” is most enjoyable when delivering what it was evidently built around: Gillis’ smirking, button-pushing performance as a Rust Belt ex-jock who never made good the way his portrayer has. Unlike many comedians when put in charge of their own scripted shows, Gillis is smart enough not to cast himself as the straight man, instead leaving that role to Gerber while he gets the fun stuff. It’s Shane who argues with Dave while sitting on the toilet, spreads a rumor Will taught a parrot to say the N-word and poaches the graphic designer Will hired on TaskRabbit to draw a bunch of big-chested girls. We’re not meant to approve of everything Shane says or does, but even within the shop, he gets away with saying what others can’t through sheer charm and confidence. No one minds when he calls the Italian mechanics “wops.” When Will does, it’s a problem.

But when refracted through an ensemble and a fictional narrative, Gillis can’t be as precise in toying with the line between offensive and insightful as he is onstage. The classic Gillis joke deploys his meathead energy — his favorite filler word is “dude” —to toy with audience expectations about 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 more straightforward. If anything, the blink-and-it’s-over season is an audition for a second, Netflix-funded round of episodes — and, sure enough, the company announced a renewal before the first had even aired. Perhaps an extended 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 full one.

All six episodes of “Tires” are now streaming on Netflix.

Shane Gillis Netflix Sitcom ‘Tires’ Is a Self-Funded Showcase That Spins Its Wheels: TV Review (2024)
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