The emergence of a strange, dreamy television genre, showcased in “The Vince Staples Show,” is gaining popularity and is sure to appeal to fans of “Atlanta.”
Okay, let’s address this first: Netflix has released a new series featuring rapper and actor Vince Staples, titled The Vince Staples Show (available starting Thursday, February 15th). It’s worth mentioning that this show bears some similarities to Atlanta (which I personally enjoyed) and Dave, a show created by a rapper and actor that I enjoyed until the final three minutes of the third season finale (and if we’re being honest, I also disliked the entire fifth episode of season three) – specifically, the Brad Pitt segment. Really?
The reason for this is not simply because all three shows feature an actor-rapper. In a similar manner to Dave, Staples portrays a version of himself that is influenced by his fame. People approach him and recognize him, doors are opened and things go smoothly because of who he is, he is randomly admired or disliked by strangers, and this adds a unique and enjoyable element to the show. Like Atlanta, the events in the show have a dreamlike quality where anything could happen (an episode set in a knockoff amusement park is reminiscent of Atlanta, and I even questioned if they found a discarded script in a dumpster behind the FX studios). Alright, I am glad we have clarified that.
Although it is a positive development, a small part of me is bothered by the fact that only successful music artists are given the opportunity to create ambitious, meta, and surreal television shows with stunning direction. If a traditional “writer” were to create the first episode of The Vince Staples Show, they would face resistance from producers who want to insert their own ideas and changes. However, as Vince Staples is already an established artist, he has the power to shut down these discussions. The significance here is that these types of shows are actually being produced and they are of such high quality that they are forming a genre of their own. Currently, Vince Staples is one of the few individuals who have the freedom to create something as lavish, bizarre, and meandering as The Vince Staples Show. But the blueprint now exists and one day, someone will be able to produce a similar show without having to first spend years in Odd Future.
The show features Staples portraying himself in a dry manner within a partially surreal version of Long Beach, California (referred to simply as “the Beach”). Each episode starts with a disclaimer stating that the show is a work of fiction and any resemblances to real events are purely coincidental. I personally appreciate how rappers have embraced the idea of appearing somewhat pretentious. Staples purposely maintains a flat and ordinary demeanor while chaos and oddity ensues around him. It’s similar to when a successful comedian from “Live at the Apollo” gets their own sitcom on BBC Two and portrays themselves as the most normal person in the world. In this scenario, every barista they encounter (always a barista) is a rude lunatic, and the only joke is the comedian quickly blinking and saying “okay” while others around them act bizarrely. However, Staples’ approach is much cooler and he expertly balances the weirdness around him – it never becomes too outlandish, but rather something that lurks at the edges. There is also a complexity to his character, a subtle discomfort with his fame and the assumption that he’s just a musician, which adds more depth to the show than the simple concept of an emotionless man having a challenging interaction with someone in the service industry.
This show may not appeal to everyone, as it has a very atmospheric feel and one episode is only 18 minutes long without any clear reason for such a short duration. At times, it also falls into one of my TV pet peeves of things happening without explanation and never being mentioned again. However, I am excited that there is a new, intriguing, and unconventional genre of television emerging. If this is what rappers are capable of, perhaps they should be given development deals directly. I am curious to see how Ice Spice would utilize the resources of a former Top Boy director, a team of Princeton graduates, a generous budget, and creative freedom. The future of television lies somewhere in that equation, I can sense it.