Representation isn't always a good thing. As a white guy with curly hair and a messy beard who loves hip hop despite being a dork with no meaningful connection to the culture, I see myself in Dave, and I don't like it. I get all the jokes, recognize all the guest star rappers, and occasionally laugh at Dave "Lil Dicky" Burd's Larry Davidian misadventures on his new FXX comedy, in which the comedy rapper plays a fictionalized version of himself trying to break into the rap game despite everything in his life, from his socioeconomic status to his personality, making that look like a bad idea. I don't relate to all of it, though. Dave Burd made a whole show about how "Dave Burd" has a terrible penis.
Seriously, the show is completely obsessed with its star's junk. The very first scene of the show is "Dave Burd" describing his deformed penis to a doctor. The show's third episode is about his insecurity about letting his kind, loving girlfriend see his deformed penis. His breakthrough song on the show is called "My D--- Sucks." His rap name is, y'know, Lil Dicky.
I say "Dave Burd" because the same way that "Larry David" on Curb Your Enthusiasm is not the real Larry David, Dave's "Dave Burd" is not the real Dave Burd, nor even the real Lil Dicky. The real Lil Dicky is a tremendously successful comedy rapper, whose songs like "$ave Dat Money" and "Freaky Friday" rack up hundreds of millions of YouTube views and make music journalists uncomfortable, as they take an outsider's perspective in satirizing hip hop culture. He's an upper middle class white guy rapping (undeniably well) about wishing he could say the N-word or bragging about his white privilege. He has parlayed his musical success into a show that will not be watched by hundreds of millions of people, which apparently was his goal from the outset. "Though I started rapping to be comedic, my ambitions were not to be a rapper," he said in a testy interview with Vice in 2014. "It was to have someone like Judd Apatow to notice I'm really funny. "
That "someone like Judd Apatow" is co-creator Jeff Schaffer, who also created The League and executive-produces Curb Your Enthusiasm. (Other executive producers are Kevin Hart and music mogul Scooter Braun, so Burd has some powerful co-signers; if he was ever an outsider, he's not anymore.) Apatow and Curb Your Enthusiasm are the primary influences on Dave. The first three episodes are directed by Superbad's Greg Mottola, who is also "someone like Judd Apatow." The tone of the show hearkens back to the apolitically bro-y heyday of Judd Apatow's mid-'00s comedies, where buddies bro down and girlfriends are patient and supportive of their man-child partners. Dave's girlfriend Ally (Taylor Misiak) has the Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up role, and the way the show doesn't examine that "mommy-girlfriend" trope — at least not in the five episodes sent for review — feels out of step for mainstream comedy in 2020, but maybe not for the unwoke straight white dudes who in that Vice interview Burd estimates make up 70% of his audience.
The show itself doesn't feel intentionally anti-woke, though. It does a better job with another prerequisite for mainstream comedy in 2020 — destigmatizing mental health issues — with an episode focused on Lil Dicky's hype man GaTa (Lil Dicky's actual hype man) that shows the pain behind his relentlessly positive, party-hearty facade. It's heartfelt and unexpectedly moving, even though it comes out of nowhere after four episodes of penis jokes and Curb-style aloofness.
Dave's Curb-derived plotting sometimes leads to funny moments. Dave getting mad at rap superstar Young Thug for passing him a blunt even though Thugger has a cold is a solid riff on what would happen if Larry David were a rapper. And the second episode ends with a Curb-style tie-up so hilarious that I immediately told my desk neighbor about it. She didn't understand the hip hop references I was making and didn't care. It's annoying to be Dave.
TV Guide rating: 2.5/5
Dave premieres Wednesday, March 4 at 10/9c on FXX and the day after on FX on Hulu.