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‘Dave’ 2.01 and 2.02 Review: White man's burdens, ego and insecurity

In the premiere episodes of 'Dave' Season Two, Lil Dicky (Dave Burd) wrestles with writer's block as he tries to deliver an album that will kick his career to the next level.

Rapper Lil Dicky (Dave Burd) attempts to convince Korean pop star CL to perform in a music video for what he hopes will be an international pop crossover.
(Image: © FXX Networks)

Our Verdict

Burd's merciless willingness to lean into Lil Dicky's least appealing qualities reminds viewers that the character can be as irritating as he is talented.

For

  • 🍆 Dave's well-earned L after courting a Korean pop star for a crossover hit showcases both his commercial savviness and his deeper ignorance of nonwhite culture.

Against

  • 🍆 The show's frenetic pace during the first episode may put off viewers eager to watch Lil Dicky in his neurotic white hip-hop habitat.

This post contains spoilers for Dave. 

Working with Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm director and executive producer Jeff Schafer and a remarkably diverse team of writers including Saladin Patterson, Yamara Taylor and Luvh Rakhe, Season One of Dave accomplished a unique feat in successfully exploring a white rapper’s career at a time when questions of racial equity and cultural appropriation are (appropriately) being asked more often than ever. Where a generation or two ago Beastie Boys or Eminem could claim a space within the predominantly black (and indisputably black-created) art form without much discussion about what these acts borrow from or imitate, the show incisively, and repeatedly, put Lil Dicky’s career under a microscope of white privilege and potential exploitation as he attempted to achieve commercial and artistic success. The fact that the show was extremely funny helped it draw record numbers for FXX, but its unforgiving and extremely specific portrait of a young white man trying to navigate life and a career in an industry that capitalizes on black art undoubtedly resonated with generations of hip-hop fans who love the genre but wrestle with its exploitation — and their potential role in doing so.

For some viewers, of course, that was a lesser subtext to the rest of the show’s exploration of celebrity culture in the era of influencers, a latter-day Entourage for the fake-it-till-you-make it set, leavened with a healthy serving of Larry David-style self-destruction. But at the beginning of Season Two, Dave (Dave Burd) is on the precipice of his biggest success to date — if he can get out of his own way, anyway. In the premiere episode, “International Gander,” he travels to Korea to record a K-pop song to cravenly catapult himself to a new level of fame, despite the fact that he really has no understanding of it except for the propensity for hits to become international viral sensations. Nevertheless, he’s enlisted legitimate Korean star CL (playing herself) for a guest verse on this song he’s continually refining and editing even as they gather to shoot the music video, while Mike (Andrew Santino), GaTa and a Korean-American intern Dan (Ki Hong Lee) scramble to communicate and coordinate with the local filmmaking team.

While Dave grows increasingly worried that CL won’t show for the shoot, his team unexpectedly runs afoul of the local authorities, who confiscate the laptop that supposedly has all of the music from Lil Dicky’s new album. It’s a bracing reintroduction to the character’s world because the opportunities for him are greater but so are the stakes, and Dave’s comprehension of Korean culture, from its musical landscape to the laws about weed, showcases his ignorance, narcissism, and most of all his desperation to succeed. If as the first season indicated he’s given a lot of thought to his place as a white man in a black artistic community, he has not extended that to this Asian one, and it appropriately blows up in his face — doubly so when the confiscation of his laptop reveals that he has no finished music for a new album, despite a looming deadline. But the show thankfully does not let him off the hook for these shortcomings, and he gets a thorough dressing down for his self-indulgent ignorance, first from Dan and later from CL after he mistakes her head of security for a domineering Korean mobster trying to control her career.

Meanwhile, “Antsy” digs more deeply into Dave’s creative process — or the lack thereof: he’s got writer’s block, and more problematically, has absolutely no idea what to rap about. Installed in a Hollywood hills house by the record label, he spends his days masturbating to virtual reality porn and killing ants that are overrunning his equipment; but after reconnecting with Elz (Travis “Taco” Bennett), his DJ and producer who’s launched a successful production and tour career of his own, he decides to attend a party he’s throwing despite the fact that Ally (Taylor Misiak), his ex-girlfriend, might be there. The episode’s parallel lines of work and life intersect as Dave wrestles with his own lack of progress, and Elz’ career momentum, especially when he realizes that no one recognizes him at the party. Needing some validation, he wanders down the street from Elz’ event in the hopes of getting recognized, and ends up meeting a young woman named Caroline (Shawna Della-Ricca) he brings back to his ant-infested house.

As he indicates earlier in the episode, he’s been terrified of hooking up since he and Ally broke up, but it’s hard to know just how much of that is candor and how much is shtick, since he’s hanging out at Benny Blanco’s house with Kendall Jenner and Hailey Bieber. But his attempts to woo her play out in two different ways, one expectedly and another slightly more hopeful — a change of tactics for the neurotic, endlessly second-guessing young man — and the latter is certainly something he needs, as a small victory or break from familiar cycles that are likely keeping him from accessing his creativity, and his real confidence.

Burd’s commitment to delivering an honest and authentic portrait of this character, however much of him there is inside of the onscreen Dave, rivals Larry David’s on Curb Your Enthusiasm in terms of avoiding making him more charming or likeable despite his many, many shortcomings. Like David’s television alter ego, Dave is a guy who’s always questioning, and who can’t leave well enough alone when he hears or sees something that rankles him — and something always rankles him, usually the smaller and more petty, the worse it is. He’s immature, entitled, and self-absorbed, and the perceived success of a record contract has only intensified those qualities. And yet, he’s also clearly incredibly insecure and lonely, and also extremely talented; if it weren’t for the songs he performs in the first season, from his freestyle in the first episode to his hilariously overcomplicated magnum opus in the finale, there would be no reason to watch his misadventures. Burd somehow finds a balance between these disparate parts of his personality to make the character appealing, if not always likable.

The show’s commitment to further exploring the other characters in his life gives it a larger dimensionality that also counterbalances how irritating Dave can occasionally be. The fact that so few of Dave’s friends have time for his shenanigans, or have time for him at all, serves as a powerful reminder how much work it can be to befriend somebody with the personality traits that he possesses. There’s also a great moment in “Antsy” where Emma (Christine Ko) chases down a cyclist who yells at her while she’s driving, and it offers this tiny, wonderful moment of wish fulfillment, and almost immediately, the reality of an act like that, that will undoubtedly resonate for women, Asian and Asian-American drivers and the stereotypes they face, and also the sort of flaccid gratification that might come from confronting somebody individually who intentionally or incidentally might have been propping those up.

After the “Hype Man” episode in Season One, I’m eager to see more stories focused on GaTa, who both brings an essential reality check for Dave’s travails and provides this wonderful, indefatigable, supportive energy to his ambitions that quite frankly everyone should have in their lives; but even his small contributions to scenes, such as when he’s exploring Dave’s VR porn while Dave and Mike bicker about productivity, gives them a welcome, unpredictable charge. Ultimately, as a whole Dave Season two picks up confidently where it left off, but it feels like the big challenge will be to find a way for the people who are his friends to both be true to the dynamics established in Season One and also to not merely be a Greek chorus reminding Dave of what an asshole he is — while the show also generates opportunities for him to become less of one. Regardless, it’s clear that Dave Burd is tremendously talented, if not making music, then at least fictionalizing that process for the sake of comedy, and it will be fun to watch how his increasing success, or lack thereof, unfolds on screen.