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Max’s Bookie isn’t a TV Comedy Bet Worth Taking

Is there much point in reviewing a show off of one episode? Arguably not, especially if it’s a comedy, given how much that genre typically takes a few episodes to find its timing. However, Max’s new show “Bookie” feels like it should be a big deal, so it's difficult to ignore it because the network behind it is stingy with the selection. It’s the creation of one of the biggest TV producers in history on a major streaming service, with a massive stand-up star as its lead. So why did the company only send one episode for review? Based on the inferior quality of this one, my guess is that they didn’t want us to suffer more this holiday season.

The aforementioned producer is Chuck Lorre, the man behind the massive CBS comedies “Two and a Half Men” and “The Big Bang Theory,” along with Emmy darling “The Kominsky Method” over on Netflix. He finally gets to Max with “Bookie,” the story of an L.A. gambling facilitator named Danny (Sebastian Maniscalco) who has issues beyond his non-paying clients and the fact that his trade is about to be legalized and corporatized across the country. 

The premiere sees Danny placing bets for his people, trying to collect from others, and keeping his life in check. He does all of the above with the assistance of a colleague named Ray (Omar J. Dorsey), a sister named Lorraine (Vanessa Ferlito), and a former drug dealer named Hector (Jorge Garcia), someone who had to deal himself with a once-underground business come into the light. Lorre and company are also clearly going to rely on cameos, opening and closing this premiere with some big ones, including Charlie Sheen playing himself in a bit of a reunion that also goes for cheap laughs. The L.A. setting, the macho-dude humor, the dated jokes, and the familiar faces all give this comedy the sense of what the “Entourage” guys might be doing today. Don’t be surprised if Kevin Dillon shows up soon.

Maniscalco pushes his way through some awful writing in the premiere of “Bookie,” a half-hour of television that can be downright archaic in its sense of humor when it's not just lazy. For example, one of Danny’s clients cross-dresses as a way to hide from him, leading to some trashy trans jabs because, of course, it does. As for making jokes about something as addictive as gambling, that's fine if they’re clever, but everything here is cheap and uninspired. It’s a laugh track, a reduction in profanity, and a studio audience away from being your standard network sitcom, but the truth is that Lorre’s work in that field was often deceptively smarter than what's on display here. There’s something about a well-timed sitcom like the ones that made him a multi-millionaire that I’ve always thought was underrated, so my dislike of “Bookie” doesn’t come from Lorre’s track record—if anything, this kind of material, which should be edgier than what Lorre normally does, just doesn’t fit his skill set.

Could it all improve in an episode or two? Sure. Ferlito is an engaging performer, and I don’t think most of the failures of the premiere fall at the feet of Maniscalco, an entertaining stand-up who hasn’t quite figured out how to carry himself on-screen as a fictional character. He always looks uncomfortable when he’s not playing himself, but most people would with the writing in this series premiere, a show that I might have once suggested was beneath the HBO brand, but, well, we all know what happened to that part of the Max agenda. If this is the new brand of comedy for the streaming branch of what's still the world's most important TV network? I’m cashing out.

One lonely episode was screened for review. "Bookie" premieres on Max on November 30th.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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