Dave wants to know whether “the details are Korean enough.” The titular character of the FX show Dave is shooting a music video in Seoul. The plan: shamelessly appropriate K-pop in an attempt to get one of the most-viewed music videos in YouTube history. But, as Dave is an ignorant white guy abroad, obliviousness—and racism—ensues.
Dave presents at the Korean Music Awards and says, “We’ve got BTS in the house!” (They are not in the house.) Mistakenly thinking K-pop superstar CL is in danger on the music video set, Dave yells, “I’m American, I can help!” At one point, Dave is searching for Dan, his Korean American intern, but he cannot describe Dan’s face to a police officer. Dan later asks Dave’s manager, Mike, if the rapper is always like this. Mike sighs. “You’re seeing him at his worst.”
That applies for the entire second season of Dave, whose first two episodes air Wednesday. If the show’s first season is about Dave dipping his toes in the waters of narcissism, the second follows him as he dives in headfirst, becoming more self-centered—and just all-around terrible—the more famous he gets. The sheer volume of his grossness is staggering. Dave asks a man who converted to Islam, “How do you pick a Muslim name?” He pseudo-stalks his ex-girlfriend, lets llamas escape petting zoos, and even asks a record-label executive if he can release his album on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. “Even when I loved you,” his ex-girlfriend says, “I did not like you.” You could say the same thing about the show.
Dave is created by and stars Dave Burd, who not-so-loosely based the series on his life as white rapper “Lil Dicky.” (The show is cocreated by Jeff Schaffer, who was an executive producer on Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and The League.) Much like the Dave character, Burd is a skinny, awkward, affluent Jewish man-boy whose fame is built on using a Black art form to sing about his deformed penis. In the real world, Burd rode that fame to a billion views on YouTube and a television series. Now he’s using that series to rewind his journey, and—with some edits—take us along for the ride.
And a lot of people like the ride. The first season of Dave became the most-watched FX comedy series ever, passing Donald Glover’s critically acclaimed Atlanta. Those numbers are inflated some, given that Dave debuted in March 2020, as COVID-19 hit the U.S. and many people hunkered down and started bingeing television. Plus, those ratings include streaming numbers, and Dave was available to watch on Hulu, while Atlanta was only on FXNow. (Who could forget our fond memories streaming FXNow?)
But even with juiced numbers, there could not be a more apt metaphor for Burd’s ascent than his FX show (which is made by, stars, and chronicles a white rapper) surpassing Glover’s FX show (which is made by, stars, and chronicles a Black rapper). Black Americans invented rap, but historically, white men who co-opt it have often reached the highest levels of fame faster. Burd took adopting Black culture to the extreme in his video for the song “Freaky Friday,” in which he switches lives and bodies with Chris Brown and, realizing he is inhabiting a Black man’s body, begins yelling the N-word over and over again. The video has almost 700 million views.
As the (Black) rapper Murs noted in 2019, a white rapper’s “rocket ship has trouble getting off the ground, but once it gets to the stratosphere, it’s gone.” Season 2 of Dave will test whether that same principle applies to TV shows about white rappers.
The success of Dave Season 1 has allowed the show to bring in some star power. Justin Bieber and Kourtney Kardashian made appearances in Season 1 (and so did Macklemore, lol). But in Season 2, the cameos go even higher. Dave spends time in a pool with Kendall Jenner, Hailey Bieber, and Elsie Hewitt, and tells them, “At home, I have borderline reinvented masturbation.” There are appearances from Kevin Hart, J Balvin, and Lil Nas X. And Dave interrupts a story his friend is telling at a posh L.A. bar only to realize the story is being told to Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma. But Kuzma isn’t even the most famous Laker in the show.
In one episode, Dave writes a song called “Kareem Abdul-Jabbar” (“Kareem / Abdul / Kareem Abdul-Jabbar / these hooks got me scoring, see me coming from afar”). Kareem himself hears it and invites Dave to his house. Dave is giddy, but then Kareem pulls out a tape recorder and a notepad, and Dave realizes Kareem is writing a story about Dave and cultural appropriation for Time magazine. (Dave does a Google search and sees he’s going to get Lena Dunham’ed.) Plenty of white artists are forced to come to terms with their histories of appropriation. But Dave has that conversation with the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.
Overall, this season tries to walk a very thin line. Dave the character is an oblivious, racist narcissist. But Dave the show wants to be in on the joke. Burd is pillorying his on-screen persona so the real-life version can be touted as having his finger on the pulse of America’s third-rail issues. The stunning part is it kind of works. In Season 2, Dave is at his worst. But Dave is at its best.