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White Famous would be a lot better if it actually had a sense of humor.
The new Showtime series (Sunday, 10 ET/PT, * ½ out of four) stars Saturday Night Live alum Jay Pharoah as a black comedian moving up in the Los Angeles stand-up scene, on the verge of becoming “white famous;” that is, breaking out to mainstream Hollywood success.
Created by Tom Kapinos (Californication), the series is produced by Jamie Foxx (who appears as himself in the premiere) and is loosely based on Foxx’s experiences as a rising young star. But what could have been a smart and incisive look at Hollywood is instead a sluggish, shallow and often sexist knockoff of Entourage.
Floyd Mooney (Pharoah) is a decently well-known comedian whose career gets a big boost after he’s on the receiving end of a racially charged rant from a powerful producer (Stephen Tobolowsky) that goes viral. He’s able to use that moment to get a role in one of the producer’s films, and his career advances from there.
Perhaps the biggest problem in White Famous is that Floyd is unappealing and grating. The series is predicated on his struggle for success, but it’s difficult to root for him when he doesn’t seem particularly deserving of it, on a personal or professional level. He has an unhealthy relationship with his ex, Sadie (Cleopatra Coleman), in which he would prefer she not see anyone else while he is free to date. He berates his agent, is negligent towards the son he and Sadie share and constantly self-sabotages in meetings with directors and producers.
It’s hard to understand what makes Floyd so hot in Hollywood, particularly because neither he nor the series are particularly funny. And the project feels like a huge waste of Pharaoh’s talents. He was charming in six seasons on SNL, but in White Famous he never sparks or connects with the audience. It feels like the actor is trapped in a bad sketch with one joke that won’t end.
White Famous also has an astounding lack of respect for its female characters. Foxx’s cameo begins with the actor taking a meeting with Floyd while having sex with an anonymous nude woman while he is clothed. He describes her to Floyd as “research,” reducing her to little more than a prop.
The series tries to make a point about how poorly black men are treated in Hollywood, including an extended bit in the premiere about black comedians who are asked to play female characters. However, the scene is undercut by a gross-out gag involving a horrified Floyd imagining losing his male genitalia once he puts that dress on, as if the worst fate life could offer is being a woman. So funny.
White Famous is a jumble of hyper-masculine yucks designed to titillate and amusemale viewers, but its viewpoint feels outdated and in poor taste.
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