“You’ve won the hearts of many people who should have hated you, so many times,” Dave Burd’s manager Mike assures him. “Like who?” Dave wonders. Mike does not have a good answer, admitting that he only made the original comment because he’s high.
The real Dave Burd — a.k.a. comic rapper Lil Dicky, who is also the co-creator (with Curb Your Enthusiasm producer Jeff Schaffer) and star of the FXX comedy Dave — has definitely won over those who should have hated him. Me, for instance. I was all ready to dismiss Dave as a belabored dick joke that somehow got turned into a TV show, when, surprisingly, it served up a thoughtful spotlight on Dave’s hype man GaTa (like Burd, more or less playing himself) and his struggles with bipolar disorder. And things only got more complex, audacious, and, yes, grosser from there, resulting in a superb, incredibly likable debut season.
Dave the lightly fictionalized character is neither as successful nor as self-aware as Burd, though he’s a bit closer on the success front as Season Two begins. He now has a record contract — and a swank rental house in which to live while he writes and produces his first album — and is at a level of celebrity where he’s less surprised to find himself hanging in a pool with models like Kendall Jenner, Hailey Bieber, and Elsie Hewitt than he was to run into Kendall’s sister Kourtney Kardashian last year. But Dave’s willful denial of his own narcissism and other flaws only seems worse as we return, providing lots of comic and dramatic fuel for the new stories.
And with this new season, Dave finds itself having even more in common with FX’s other, more high-profile comedy set in the hip-hop world. While Dave is more overtly and consistently going for laughs than Atlanta, there’s a similar sense that each episode could feel wildly different from the one before it. The premiere is a black-comic farce set in South Korea, where Dave’s attempt to record a song for the new album, featuring K-pop star CL, spirals badly out of control because of how little Dave and Mike (Andrew Santino) have tried to understand the local culture. Later installments involve Dave and superproducer Benny Blanco taking their male bonding too far(*), to GaTa’s disapproval; Dave fending off (completely fair) accusations of appropriation from guest star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; and contrasting tales of Dave and best friend Elz (Travis “Taco” Bennett) arguing at a bar mitzvah while GaTa has a tense and sad Murphy’s-law odyssey through the streets of L.A. at night. (That last one has an unexpectedly perfect ending.)
(*) Without going into too much prurient detail, the episode is definitely this season’s equivalent of the one from last year where we found out exactly how Dave achieves sexual gratification, given the physical peculiarities of his genitals. Or it’s this season’s equivalent of the one from last year where Dave suffered an on-camera bout of intestinal distress. Regardless, Team Dave seems determined to dramatize things about the human anatomy that have never previously been depicted on television — and to their credit, use it for character work as much as shock value. You just may be too busy gasping to recognize the nuances.
The characters are the same throughout, and various stories advance, from the writing of the album to Dave’s attempt to reconcile with ex-girlfriend Ally (Taylor Misiak), but tonally, a lot of the episodes could belong to different series, in a way that feels exciting rather than scattershot. There’s a confidence to each experiment that makes them all of a piece, no matter the setting or how ridiculous or serious each one might be.
Even more than the album, or Ally, what ties all these strange stories together is Dave’s penchant for making situations worse through his own myopia. He’s capable of being a kind and generous person who can read a room, but more often than not, he gets stuck inside his own neuroses, not even noticing that people around him are being hurt by his selfishness until they scream in his face about it. (And not always even then.) That the series is obviously aware of his shortcomings — and frequently allows people like Ally or Kareem to call him out on them — makes those uncomfortable moments bearable, and at times fascinating. Midway through the Benny Blanco episode, for instance, GaTa suggests that most of Dave and Benny’s antics together are the result of them being “rich, white, and ain’t got shit else to do,” which then turns into an argument over whether there’s never been a black bromance movie, and if not, why. (Without spoiling the jokes or details, you will be unsurprised to learn that Dave and Benny do not get the better end of this debate.)
This was already an excellent show that seems to have leveled up in its second season. As he works on the new album, Dave the character is struggling to expand what he can do; Dave the comedy has already figured that out.
Season Two of Dave premieres June 16th on FXX, with episodes streaming the next day on Hulu. I’ve seen the first five episodes.