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I tell people to watch Dave, and they say: "What's Dave?" Well. It's a show about a rapper named Dave Burd, who goes by Lil Dicky and rhymes about his unusual private parts. Burd is a real person, though Dave is fictionalized and costars Burd's real-life friend GaTa, who plays Dave's friend GaTa. There are cameos by celebrities I'm too old to recognize. Someone calls Dave a "satiric rapper," but he believes his art can change the world. Someone else calls Dave a "YouTube rapper," but that sounds so old-timey, who still watches YouTube?
The original tracks are absurd - "My D--- Sucks," "I Took a S--- In Korea," an ode to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - and Dave goes viral yelling "Somebody suck me!!" while wearing a yellow Jim-Carrey-in-The-Mask suit. So the series (returning June 16 on FXX) is partially a portrait of contemporary internet stardom. Eye roll, frankly. Except it's also a wacky-sad comedy about professional struggle, romantic turmoil, cultural appropriation, and making peace with the (metaphorical) child within you by (metaphorically) strangling that child in a box of noodles.
To clarify: I live in a bubble of upper-millennial diaper-wipers who left youth culture behind when the word "influencer" happened. For the demographics that matter, Dave is simply a hit. Season 1 had all the right metrics, despite a terrible marketing campaign (Hello, Mr. Penisbody.) A mere ten episodes overflowed with surprising sitcom possibilities. Dave and his teacher girlfriend Ally (Taylor Misiak) tiptoed sweetly toward a devastating break-up. GaTa (the character) revealed his bipolar disorder, something GaTa (the actual guy) lives with. The brilliant ensemble was big enough for sweet sparks to fire between Dave's DJ friend Elz (Travis Bennett) and Ally's sardonic roommate Emma (Christine Ko).
Co-creator Jeff Schaffer is a comedy pro from Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, which explains Dave's sharp laughs. And I think you have to credit Burd himself for the show's twisted melancholy - not to mention the non-ironic joy powering his performances. Season 2 picks up with the fictional Dave on the ascent. The label has him stashed in a fancy Hills house: Pool with a view, living space for his manager Mike (Andrew Santino), nothing to distract him from finishing his first album.
So distractions abound in the five episodes released to critics. Dave, GaTa, and Mike start the season in Korea, where their attempt to cash in on the global K-pop craze spirals into some kind of international incident. Back in Los Angeles, Dave struggles to reconnect platonically with Ally after months of post-relationship radio silence. He's developing a real bond with producer Benny Blanco (playing himself a bit much). But tensions rise with his childhood bestie Elz, who's got a busy producing career, and with Mike, who occupies an uneasy space between friend and employee. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sees Dave's video about him, and has follow-up questions. Meanwhile, GaTa's phone is low on battery. And the label wants that album.
It's a very good season, with enough idiosyncrasy to triumph over some growing pains. That huge home symbolizes Dave's rising prominence in Hollywood, and maybe Dave's own expanding success. The plucky underdog is now doing pool hangs with Kendall Jenner, and some of the cameos move dangerously close to late-period Entourage territory, so much celebrity for the sake of celebrity. Dave now takes place in an alternate universe where 2021 has no coronavirus but, per Dave, "We're in a f---ing race war back home." Now, every artist has to absorb this past year in their own way. Given Dave's subject matter, I understand why the writers are reacting more to America's ongoing racial reckoning than that one time Los Angeles was the epicenter for a global pandemic. (anStill, there's a distancing effect in this COVID-free zone, given how timely Dave can be about the intersection of hip-hop and social media.
And the show is very savvy about modern fame. One new episode introduces a pair of online pranksters, two blond brother horrors who look one accusation away from a boxing career. They offer to shout GaTa out to their followers. GaTa offers to shout them out to his followers. They hold up their phones to simultaneously shout each other out, their mutual shouting overlapping like a Robert Altman echo chamber. It's a hilarious visual that could be the last word on TikTok, if TikTok wasn't going to bury us all.
Also: The loneliness of showbiz success! Is not a new concept, obvs, Britney had a banger about it two decades ago. But there's a peculiar frankness in Burd's self-exhibition, which goes deeper than the gross-out body gags and the VR porn. That big beautiful house is full of ants, a potent symbol for all the little irritations troubling Dave. The psychological chaos of his writing process forms a perfect storm with his helpless narcissism. Attempts to make peace with Ally inevitably backfire. "You're so self-centered, still!" she tells him. "This is exactly why, even when I loved you, I did not like you." It's a brutal line, and I wish I could explain why Dave is holding a gigantic check when she says that, but it's a long story.
Season 2 takes a few episodes to find its footing. A couple of famous people really do feel extraneous, like the show's working too hard to boost its own follower count (remember to @ us, Kyle Kuzma!). We have to talk about GaTa, though. After leveling up season 1 with his moving focal episode, the hype man returns as a new kind of scene-stealer. The character's happy to join Dave on the rise to glory: "N---s where I'm from ain't supposed to make it to Korea!"
But he's also trying to get his own career going - and dealing with the real financial problems of waiting on Dave to get tour-ready. I can't remember the last time a performer did so much work as both comic relief and dramatic relief, veering bleak moments into hilarity even as he turns jokey banter into emotional tailspins. Episode 5 finds GaTa lost in Los Angeles late at night, with no car and no place to charge his phone. It's a subplot that winds up dominating the episode, moving between rueful humor, unsettling suspense, and gobsmacking cinematic awesomeness. Dave might be self-centered, but Dave at its best spreads its attention between all its characters. Fine, fine, I'll follow. A-