For some audiences, entering the world of hip-hop and rap is a nonstarter. Yet FX bet big on Donald Glover and “Atlanta,” creating one of the best shows of the past decade. Despite rap’s emergence as the dominant musical genre in America, many are unwilling to acknowledge its nuances. This quickly led skeptics to dismiss “Dave,” the upcoming FX/Hulu series about pop rapper Dave Burd, a.k.a. Lil Dicky. While Burd has built his own devout fandom, the fact that the network that created “Atlanta” was involved increased the skepticism. After all, his rap name is a dick joke (or “a super-intellectual commentary on hypermasculinity” depending on who you ask). Shockingly, “Dave” paves its own path to create a meaningful and very funny comedy.
“Dave” follows a fictional version of Burd/Lil Dicky after his breakout songs on YouTube have inspired a cult following. Now all he needs to do is make his artistry a real career. Supported by his girlfriend Ally (Taylor Misiak) and lifelong friend Mike (Andrew Santino), Dave hangs around rap studios. Thanks to his friendship with producer Elz (Travis Bennett, a.k.a. Taco), he meets GaTa (played by Dave’s real-life hype man GaTa). After recruiting another friend Emma (Christine Ko) to help design his look, Dave makes his way towards his goal: to become the greatest rapper of all time.
For those unfamiliar with his style, the Lil Dicky persona certainly gets graphic and funny on his records. Yet his perfectionist, neurotic nature spills into his songs. While it’s easy to compare him to comedic acts like The Lonely Island, Dicky’s songs fit the current mold of what makes a popular hip hop track. You can feel that devotion in the show, with Dicky giving a real performance. The series builds itself around this thesis statement, with extremely personal stories on display for each of its characters. By the second episode, you’ll find yourself hooked on them.
Burd’s performance and self-deprecating humor establish the tone from the first scene. He makes fun of his whiteness at nearly every turn, fully acknowledging his privilege. Thanks to the collaboration with “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “The League” showrunner Jeff Schaffer, they even turn the show against its lead at times. Burd gets some great one-liners throughout, which proves he has potential. At other times he can feel a bit repetitive in his comedic style. The real surprise comes during his dramatic beats. He plays more internal moments with a naturalism that helps them pop off the screen. Burd’s not a finished product as an actor, and even if he shows his amateurism at moments, the moments that click more than makeup for the growing pains.
While Burd undeniably functions as the show’s lead, the ensemble gets great material. As the series advances, we get meaningful development for GaTa and Bennett. Both emerge as breakthrough performers with true potential. GaTa anchors an episode that is among the best of television this year. The episode rips your heart out with its honesty and vulnerability. For GaTa, it’s a coming-out party. Meanwhile, Bennett murders scenes through mere facial expressions. Not only is Bennett funny as hell, but his cadence in his comedy feels unique. He becomes the early MVP and carries that title for most of the season.
One of the more surprising series of the year, “Dave” earns its comedic and dramatic moments. Taking its cues from shows like “Better Things” or “It’s Always Sunny,” “Dave” feels right at home with FX. With prestige backing, it stands a chance to create some truly impactful stories. The question revolves around how seriously audiences will take a comedy about a Jewish rapper whose songs mostly revolve around his genitalia. With any luck, Millenials predisposed to his antics will devour the show. This should give “Dave” the chance to reach its potential.