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The Series Leaves A Lot On The Table

Who is Vince Staples? Netflix viewers who might not know the rapper/singer can dive inside his psyche with his new limited satirical series, “The Vince Staples Show.” Using the same surrealist approach as the critically acclaimed “Atlanta” and “Reservation Dogs,” the Long Beach-set series is presented in five delirium-filled vignettes as Vince (the character) navigates his daily life. Viewers watch him trying to get a small business loan, taking his girlfriend Deja’s (Andrea Ellsworth) little brother and friends to a theme park and speaking to a class of middle school students at his alma mater. While the show, which Kenya Barris produces, has some truly laugh-out-loud moments, an uneven cadence and aimlessness throughout make for a frustrating watch overall. 

“The Vince Staples Show’s” opener, “Pink House,” begins with a disclaimer that it is a work of fiction. But naturally, one can assume a few fragments of what’s displayed here are pulled directly from the 30-year-old creator’s real-life experiences. In this premiere, Vince gets pulled over by a cop for speeding in his Mercedes Benz G Wagon, and is promptly thrown in jail for an outstanding warrant. 

There are countless outlandish moments woven throughout these first 26 minutes. A police dispatcher questions whether Vince is the guy from “Abbott Elementary.” Later, a tenacious cellmate desperately flaunts his singing skills, hoping the musician might put him on. Viewers are also introduced to Vince’s mama, Anita (a dynamic Vanessa Bell Calloway), who can’t be bothered to bail her son out, even though he did her the courtesy just the week prior. On the surface, the episode is centered on Vince’s hours-long stay in jail. Yet, the subplot is about his struggles as a fairly recognizable star who tries to blend in. For Vince, being noticed always seems to come at the most inopportune time. 

The series’ second chapter, “Black Business,” which follows Vince’s microaggression-infused experience at a bank and pays homage to the 1995 film, “Dead Presidents,” works just as sharply as “Pink House.” And the third episode, “Brown Family,” is “The Vince Staples Show’s” crowning jewel. Here, Vince, Anita and Deja attend a family reunion. Well before arriving at the park, Anita is on edge, having been tasked with bringing the macaroni and cheese (perhaps the most sacred dish at any Black American function). Things continue to go awry when the trio realizes they are wearing the wrong color reunion shirt, and an anonymous pan of mac materializes, sending Anita into a frenzy. So many layers of cultural specificity are sprinkled throughout these 20 minutes as The O’Jays’ soul classic, “Family Reunion,” plays in the background. As Anita forces Deja to help her find the owner of the unsanctioned pan of mac, Vince finds himself in the presence of his elder uncle, a former USC football star whose life has taken a downward turn. For Vince, Uncle James’ life is both a mirror and a bad omen. 

Unfortunately, the show’s final two episodes, “Red Door” and “White Boy,” don’t have this same rhythm or imagination. “Red Door” starts promisingly before descending toward bizarreness. Likewise, “White Boy” offers the audience a couple of compelling scenes from Vince’s childhood before morphing into what feels like a violent video game simulation. Traditional narrative structure isn’t expected here, but these episodes don’t have an overarching theme or concise thought. Instead, they are mind-boggling to the point of disappointment. 

Eight years after the debut of Donald Glover’s “Atlanta,” audiences are more acquainted with the random meandering and super stylization of series like “The Vince Staples Show.” To move the needle and stand out, TV shows taking this approach must do something different than what has been seen previously. While this series has some memorable characters, fun guest stars and gut-busting lines of dialogue, it lacks the ingenuity and grit needed to hold a present-day television audience’s attention until the end. When it’s all said and done, Staples has a lot of great ideas, but they feel mostly unfinished.

“The Vince Staples Show” premieres on Netflix Feb. 15.

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