There’s only one show on TV that has an Oscar Micheaux tribute, John Legend jokingly (?) referring to himself as “Lord EGOT,” one-liners roasting Von Dutch, and a tiny dancing robot named the Funk-a-tron. As close as “Peaky Blinders” got last year, the only place you’ll find all of those is on “Sherman’s Showcase,” the excellent new series wrapping up its debut season on IFC.
Told in a broad infomercial format that pieces together the best moments from a long-running (and not entirely real) series in the style of “Soul Train”-era variety shows, the premise of “Sherman’s Showcase” lets it play with pretty much anything that happened in the culture over the last 47 years. Created and written by Diallo Riddle and Bashir Salahuddin, the pair also star in the series, with Salahuddin playing the fictional show’s host Sherman McDaniels and Riddle as announcer/producer Dutch Shepherd.
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Together, along with a parade of TV and musical icons (most of them playing themselves), “Sherman’s Showcase” becomes a nonstop parade of trailers, promos, and songs designed to capture the spirit of whatever period the show’s fictional timeline lines up with.
As IndieWire’s Tambay Obenson wrote in his review of the show, “It’s less about absolutely nailing the technicals, and more about overstating what already exists in their source material. To be sure, they are respectful of the objects of their satire, and are shrewd about what can be sourced for comedy that would work in the present-day.”
One of the perpetually satisfying aspects of “Sherman’s Showcase” is the sheer number of jokes packed into every episode. It would be one thing if it only resorted to the time-tested fake-infomercial stunt of scrolling a list of wacky proper nouns over a carefully edited montage. But “Sherman’s Showcase” fills plenty of its frames with stuff that works on more than just that level.
As the season draws to a close, here are some of the best things to come out of the first (of hopefully many) seasons:
The Opening Credits
What better way to track the evolution of “Sherman’s Showcase” than through the different versions of its opening credits. Aside from the series’ breakout star The Funk Monster, there’s Dutch peppering each episode’s lineup with asides about both sponsors and guests (“Jamaica’s making music, y’all!”) Making a big deal about people lost to easy recall or downplaying the stars of the future, it’s always funny either that pendulum is swinging. All three versions of the theme song willl embed themselves in your subconscious in their own special way.
“Marina del Rey (Let’s Spend the Day)”
Speaking of songs that’ll get lodged forever in your brain, few shows have deserved their own soundtrack more than “Sherman’s Showcase.” Putting together a tracklist of decades-spanning fake pop hits is never easy, and somehow this show’s first eight episodes have generated some certified earworms. “We the Black Kids in the White School,” “Priestly (Gossamer Tunic),” and Ne-Yo’s space-time continuum explainer “Time Loop” not only work as individual songs with solid jokes sprinkled throughout, they all manage to fit into the framework of the show.
Still, the show’s crowning musical achievement comes up top in the first episode, with Riddle lending some uncanny Michael McDonald falsetto to this ode to easy listening ’80s jams. Toss in a “Captain Phillips” reference and the Lucas Brothers on keytar, and you have a song that only gets better when entire families are lip syncing to it.
The Frederick Douglass Ads
One of the high points of each new episode is finding out which unexpected product Frederick Douglass (Dave Carter) is pitching this time. (The reactions are always great, too.) These work on their own within the world of “Sherman’s Showcase,” but as Riddle points out, they’re also a reworking of the Douglass ads that used to appear on “Soul Train” in the early ‘70s.
“Who Wants to Be Chamillionaire?”/”Real Song Names”
Game shows are all over “Sherman’s Showcase,” but these two are the perfect example of what the show can do when it finds the perfect length for a sketch. “Who Wants to Be Chamillionaire?” lies in that sweet spot between cutaway and drawn-out gag that just repeats the premise over and over again. It sticks around just long enough for the lifeline punchline you know is coming and then whisks onto the next clip. And for anyone who’s gone through the “Real Song Names” dilemma in their own lives — whether in casual conversation or at a trivia night — insisting on using the actual titles of songs definitely has its consequences.
If one of the hallmarks of a good sketch show is rewatchability, look no further than these dancer intros. There’s something about the way all the on-screen bios for each dancer pass by in just a split second, too quickly to take them all in on the first go. And watching them get progressively more and more absurd as the season goes on is a real treat. By the time they’ve progressed from “Joe in a Vest” to a main character from a ‘90s Best Picture Winner, it’s like everything changed before you realized it.
Other fake ads run throughout “Sherman’s Showcase,” and Sherman himself gets in on the action. (Even his name does, in the case of last week’s Shermanessence cologne ad.) One of the benefits of making Sherman McDaniels this timeless, ageless TV figure is that the jokes on the show don’t have to be confined to decades gone by. Sure, a lot of what makes “Sherman’s Showcase” funny is the benefit of hindsight, but there’s still room to look at how crazy things are in the world we’re living in. Salahuddin running through TV show viewing options could be a segment all its own.
Take Me Out to the Ballgame
If there’s one thing that American TV audience has been clamoring for over the past dozen years, it’s “more parodies of Prince’s Super Bowl XLI halftime show.” Vic Mensa answered the call in this rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” that’s the ideal combo of Prince in Miami in 2007 and Marvin Gaye’s iconic rendition of the national anthem at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game. (Mensa’s version of “If they don’t win, it’s a shame” legitimately sounds like something that would have fit right in on “The Beautiful Ones.”) Splitting that sports difference and putting Charade right on the pitcher’s mound is a brilliant bit of apocalyptic weather detailing that might even out-niche The Lonely Island’s Bash Brothers in baseball-themed absurdity.
“Sherman’s Showcase” Season 1 finale airs Wednesday night at 10:00 p.m. on IFC. The season’s previous episodes are available to stream on the IFC app and IFC.com.