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Vince Staples Gets Lost In His Own Show

Image of Vince Staples taken from Netflix's "The Vince Staples Show."
Image courtesy of Netflix

The postmodern black comedy is thriving, and Vince Staples is the latest addition to the canon. Following in the steps of shows like Atlanta, The Eric Andre Show, Random Acts of Flyness, and I'm A Virgo, Netflix's The Vince Staples Show is a similarly uncanny auteurist sideshow built around dramatizing the insanity of life in general, and Vince's life as a moderately successful rapper in particular.

It's funny, pretty often; it's Lynchian™️, whatever that means anymore. It's almost a great show, but what holds it back from getting there is kinda the entire conceit. Vince Staples is one of the funniest figures in rap, funnier than most comedians and much more charismatic. He's so good at interviews and appearances that I'd honestly rather watch him do that than listen to his music a lot of the time. It's a surprise, and an unforced error, that The Vince Staples Show wouldn't go out of its way to highlight that.

But instead the show makes Vince more or less the straight man, and tasks him with reacting to the surreality of his hometown of Long Beach. I'm sure this is probably the way Vince would characterize himself, as a product of his environment who's simply reacting to the craziness around him. It's not a bad idea for a show, either, as demonstrated by the way Atlanta's trio seem to be reacting to craziness with normal eyes (except Darius). But Vince is a lot more Martin Lawrence than he is Paper Boi, and this format underplays how funny the guy himself actually is. It sands down his energy and personality for television.

It's no surprise that the best parts of this show are usually when Vince is allowed to be as over-the-top as the situations and circumstances around him. His intimate knowledge of the robbers holding up his bank in "Black Business," or burning up chicken and blowing off cousins he doesn't know in "Brown Family," or the entire episode of "Red Door" are all great, and a great advertisement for the show that might have been, had The Vince Staples Show committed to being a little bit more of a Vince Staples show. I also enjoyed the supporting cast, particularly Vanessa Bell Calloway as Vince's mom. But the best moments in the show just highlight how much still feels missing from it. At times, the five-episode season feels like a run-through before the series starts for real.

The Vince Staples Show was executive-produced by Kenya Barris, who has built an empire on just reinventing better black sitcoms. Even he can see that he doesn't need to micromanage for Vince, who can carry most anything on his own, but he doesn't really get the chance. If I come off as hard on the show, it's because I feel like I think a lot better of Staples than the people behind this show seem to, and because I think he deserves much better than getting stuck in a rote, "black people make art films, too" attempt at the avant-garde sitcom.

The thing about David Lynch was that what people saw as random quirkiness was actually a commitment to an identity and worldview, up to and often beyond the point of absurdity. You can't really recreate that just by doing weird for the sake of weird. My many problems with Donald Glover aside, Atlanta was the culmination of years of his style and worldview, and it hit because it was the right thing at the right time. The Vince Staples Show feels like the first true post-Atlanta show, for better and for worse. I'm sure there will be many more, but already the seams of imitation are showing.

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