Shane Gillis’ New Sitcom Could Have Been A Lot Worse

Grading ‘Tires’ — and Gillis’ career — on a curve
Shane Gillis’ New Sitcom Could Have Been A Lot Worse

It’s been almost five years since a job offer to join the cast of Saturday Night Live vaulted Shane Gillis from relative obscurity to the global stage. Within a week, reporting revealed that Gillis had a history of making racist and homophobic jokes on his podcast, and the offer was withdrawn. Gillis offered a very qualified apology (which he later disavowed), and then went back to doing what he’d been doing: performing live, making comedy for the internet and staying out of the mainstream cultural discourse. 

Over the past year, however, Gillis has started getting back on the traditional path to comic stardom, including satisfying the requirements of industry gatekeepers. Now he has Tires, a new sitcom on Netflix, which he co-created and in which he stars. Like all his latest work, it’s not as bad as it could have been.

Tires certainly has problems, and I’ll get into them. But as someone who didn’t know Gillis at all before the SNL flap and lost track of him almost immediately afterward, I could at least respect the fact that he didn’t make causing offense the centerpiece of his career, getting himself booked on the right-wing grievance circuit. The worst of the podcast highlights that scuppered his first big break might be entirely indicative of his comedy overall — I am in no position to know that — but Gillis’ choices since his public exposure indicate that he has serious ambitions for his future. 

He had so thoroughly sunk from my view that it took almost Gillis’ whole first episode of Bupkis, Peacock’s short-lived autobiographical sitcom about Pete Davidson, to recognize him as “Gilly,” one of the thinly fictionalized buddies in Pete’s entourage. Considering that the show was executive produced by SNL impresario Lorne Michaels, who’d presumably had a direct role in rescinding Gillis’ job offer, Gillis’ recurring guest shot was a sign of a thaw. Sure enough, a few months after Gillis’ first Netflix special, Beautiful Dogs, premiered on the platform, Gillis was invited to host SNL

Gillis had joked on his podcast that after the incident, he would only darken the studio stage to kill himself on it, but as you may have heard, he made it through alive, alluding to the scandal in his monologue without apology or defiance, seeming mostly sheepish before using the time to introduce himself to a new audience with material he acknowledged was a lot more family-friendly than what he usually performs. I won’t go so far as to say he seemed humble, but he at least gave the impression that he knew what a big shot this was and didn’t want to squander it over politics.

Which brings us, at last, to Tires, which has the same vibe. Gillis plays Shane, a mechanic at a regional Pennsylvania auto shop chain; his location seems to be perpetually jockeying with Belmont for second-last place in the organization, and it doesn’t help that his manager for the past two months has been Will (Steve Gerben), a completely inexperienced boob who got the job by being the owner’s son. Both Shane and Will are closely monitored by Dave (Stavros Halkias), the unpleasant goblin who is also Will’s dad. Customers and neighboring entrepreneurs keep the setting lively and changeable. Gillis co-created with Gerben and John McKeever (credited only by his surname), self-funding the production before selling it to Netflix. 

I went into Tires with an open mind, prepared to enjoy a story about working-class life told without romanticism or condescension. There are solid jokes starting right in the pilot, which revolves around Will’s ill-considered “initiative” to attract more female customers as well as his Michael Scott-esque decision to announce it to a local journalist before seeing whether it’s actually going to work. Meanwhile, a tense Will gets drawn into a trap of a conversation about the neighboring Andiamo Brothers’ new receptionist and her hot “balboas” before staffer Kilah (Kilah Fox) crushes her foot with a tire and admits to using up her sick days on nonsense like not being able to get the makeup off after an Insane Clown Posse Show.

The characters and setting feel lived-in, probably because Gillis and his collaborators have hired people they know and like as opposed to, let’s say, the most talented actors they could possibly get. For a show that spends three of its six episodes establishing that Shane wants to put on a bikini car wash, holding the bikini car wash and then dealing with the aftermath of the bikini car wash, docudrama-caliber realism isn’t required. 

I just wish Tires didn’t have to be so crass. Casually tossing an f-slur in the series premiere makes a strong statement, and not a welcoming one; consistently calling the Andiamo Brothers “wops” feels more antiquated than offensive. Gillis has a ton of natural charm, and gets his own Michael Scott moments showing he’s good at his job and has good instincts dealing with the public, but would someone who eventually finds out he’s working at a potentially dying store location in a possibly dying town work so hard to bring its fortunes even lower by, for instance, embarrassing Will with sex noises on the store-wide PA? 

The show was already renewed for a second season before the first premiered (assumedly because it cost nothing to make, judging by the looks of it), so the creative team have the opportunity to nail down what kind of workplace comedy they want it to be as opposed to just one with a lot of yelling and references to characters’ various smells. 

Either way, Gillis’ career rehabilitation is going to continue. And after watching Tires, I don’t think it’s unjustified. In fact, if he refined his taste just a little for Season Two and beyond, that would be a pretty impressive gag.


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