The Vince Staples Show: A Good Show that Lacks Intention

The Vince Staples Show

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not super familiar with Vince Staples. To most of you, that probably doesn’t preclude me from commenting on his new show, “The Vince Staples Show”. To the people of the Vince Staples subreddit, it means I couldn’t possibly understand the many levels to this series.

But onward we go.

“The Vince Staples Show” on Netflix has garnered a lot of internet talk, with most of the industry’s views giving it a positive outlook and 92% Rotten Tomatoes score. While the forums and chats only lean slightly to the positive side.

The main point of contention in these glorified message boards is that, if you know Vince’s work, then you know the show’s intent isn’t to tell jokes.

The intent also isn’t to be a comedy.

It isn’t trying to be like “Atlanta”.

Or like “Curb”…although it will accept the praise that comes with it.

It’s not trying to be a drama.

And it isn’t trying to be surreal.

But then what the heck is it trying to be?

For those who haven’t watched it, “The Vince Staples Show” basically follows a fictionalized version of Vince Staples, a kind of famous, kind of rich artist who is living his day to day life in Long Beach. As he does that, he finds himself in situation after situation.

Sometimes it’s at the hands of his pseudo-celebrity.

Other times, it’s just him trying to be a decent son to his mother.

Every now and then, it’s just because stuff goes down and he just so happens to be there.

In that last way, it’s very much like “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, only Vince’s character doesn’t tend to exacerbate things. Stuff just seems to escalate because of the overly absurd characters he is surrounded by.

Now, I don’t know about you all, but generally speaking, when I watch premium television, I do want the show to be about something: entertainment!

And, for me, entertainment comes down to achieving one of 3 things:

  • Makes me laugh
  • Makes me think
  • Makes me cry

I’m an old school, Black man that’s not all that in touch with his feelings, so I’ll never admit to option #3. Thus, I’m looking for a show to be funny or contemplative. Unfortunately, “The Vince Staples” show is neither.

It’s a decent show. You aren’t going to die of boredom from watching it. But the show is probably close to 150 minutes of run time, and during that 2.5 hours I spent watching it, I rarely laughed. I didn’t force me to think. And if I were to cry, it would be because I wasted the better part of 150 minutes.

What’s the intention of The Vince Staples Show?

If you listen to Staples tell it, he purposefully didn’t write any jokes into the show.

Nobody in the show is telling a joke. Within the show, the stuff that black people see and understand, they’ll see as funny. The stuff that white people see and understand, as far as black people, they’ll see as funny. But nobody in the show is telling a joke. It’s not one joke written. It’s not one joke setup. It’s like literally, it’s day to day life. And the things within that day to day life that you see as funny is what makes it what it is.

– Vince Staples on Sway in the Morning

In case you missed it: I’m black. And I didn’t see a whole lot that was funny. And that’s probably the issue with not writing jokes.

If the goal is for somebody to see something as funny, which Vince (implicitly?) says in that interview, then you write jokes. Standup comedians don’t go on stage with the goal of being funny but with a plan that doesn’t include telling jokes. That’s not how humor works in the performative sense.

Yes, in real life, everyday stuff just happens, and we laugh. But that’s because it was unexpected. If you’re going about your life, typing out your TPS reports, and something crazy happens, it can come across as funny, when in almost any other comedic context, it probably wouldn’t garner a laugh.

Of course, the real problem with Vince’s statement there is that it isn’t true. The show is littered with attempts at jokes and stuff that doesn’t just happen in everyday life. People’s parents don’t decline to bail them out of jail a week after you bailed them out. I don’t go to the bank where my friends are robbing it, and then also make sure the pregnant lady at the branch keeps her feet up. People don’t often get beat up by a gang of mascots at the $10 amusement park.

Yet, he doesn’t want you to think it’s telling jokes.

The show doesn’t want you to think there are punchlines.

So then what am I supposed to think?

Because the show, unfortunately, didn’t make me think it.

Outside of the fact that fictionalized Vince’s fame seems to be mostly an impediment, there are no recurring themes. It’s more of an anthology than it is a series.

There is no real character development. I don’t come to know what Vince’s inner struggle is or what his “purpose” is in this show. His mom’s character is devoid of any real depth. His girlfriend’s character is just as surface level. And “The Homie” is mostly a disembodied voice that helps set up…wait for it: jokes!

All that said, my purpose here isn’t to bash the show. Quite frankly, there were elements I loved. When they were telling jokes, in my estimation, it was sometimes hilarious—like the episode with the bank robbery, which was hilarious! And I do love the surreal nature of it, even if it resembled “Atlanta”, which I don’t have a problem with it doing so. It’s perfectly natural to be inspired by something.

So what’s my intention?

My purpose here was just be an angry old man that’s upset with the notion that a lot of people don’t seem to want to have to live up to anything anymore, and it’s apparent in this show. You can’t fail at being funny if you weren’t trying to tell jokes in the first place, right?

You can’t be an unentertaining drama if you remove the dramatic elements from the plot.

You can’t critique the acting if only 3 actors appear in more than 1 episode.

Which also means you don’t really have to develop your characters, because there are no recurring ones.

Which is why I don’t understand why or how people review this? In fairness, I have and am currently doing so, but admittedly, I find it hard. It’s like trying to judge a boxer who only spars against air. How do you review something that has no real expectations?

We don’t grade pre-school artwork, because it’s a win if they manage to draw on the paper and not the table. In other words, we don’t put any real expectations on the work of 4-year olds.

And in this participation trophy world we live in today, it’s appropo that a literally “limited” series wants to get in the ring, but it doesn’t want to fight anyone. By not telling jokes or accepting a category, “The Vince Staples Show” tries to sidestep anything you may want to critique it for. But of course, when award season comes around, I’m sure they’ll find a way to square that circle and find a category for which to submit.

But more importantly, by not committing to a lane, the show suffers. What’s a series that doesn’t commit to telling jokes, doesn’t have characters you can relate with, and aims to make you think, but only through absurd and surreal experiences that mostly seem pointless to advancing the plot—such that there is one.

Ultimately, I don’t love the show, and outside of watching episode 2, I wouldn’t recommend it. That being said, it does have promise. In its current state, it probably would work best as a pure anthology. And its similarities to “Curb” and “Atlanta”, one of my favorite shows of all time, are not wrong, and they’re one of the few types of comparisons the show accepts.

So I hope they get a season 2, and that they build on what works here and try to commit to something. “Atlanta” was probably one of the most “do what we want” writing rooms in all of television, but even they had a commitment to the characters—save that crazy departure in season 3. But “Atlanta” made a comeback. And even though this would mean “The Vince Staples Show” has to comeback from a not so great start, I think another 5 or 6 episodes gives them the chance to commit to something and become the stellar series its meant to be.

So long as Vince stays true to his lyrical word and does’t run from it.

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