In the US: Sundays, 10pm, Showtime. Starts October 15
In the UK: Wednesdays, 11:05pm, Sky Atlantic. Starts July 25
There is a black and white cultural divide. That’s true both here and in the US.
Look at TMINE – how often do I review anything on BET (Black Entertainment Television)? I don’t need to because virtually nothing that airs on BET gets picked up in the UK. That’s despite the fact BET has a UK channel. Did you even know there is a BET in the UK? Probably not. Unless you’re black. Although, actually, probably not even then – it’s really not well publicised, you know.
Or take Tyler Perry. A huge star in the US. His films have done so well he’s worth $600 million. Ever watched a Tyler Perry movie? Particularly one in which he spends a lot of time in a dress? Probably not – unless you’re black, although they’re actually really hard to get hold of in the UK and it’s not like they’re in cinemas much, either.
It’s that difference between ‘famous with black people’ and ‘so well known you’re white famous’ that White Famous plays with. You all know Jamie Foxx, right? A movie star now, but he started out as a comedian. His first leapt to fame was on TV with In Living Color and then The Jamie Foxx Show. Sometimes wearing a dress.
The exact point at which he became ‘white famous’ is unknown to me, but White Famous is based on his life, so maybe I’ll find out by watching. Here, we get to see Jay Pharaoh (Saturday Night Live) playing a modern-day version of Foxx called Floyd Mooney. A promising up-and-coming black comedian, he’s already successful with black comedy audiences but despite the efforts of his agent (Utkarsh Ambudkar) to make him ‘white famous’, his refusal to play ball and insistence on calling out racist behaviour by the Hollywood elite means that he’s so far failed to hit the (really) big time. That and refusing to appear in movies where he has to wear a dress.
But when one of his tirades against a white producer’s racism (Stephen Tobolowsky) goes viral, he attracts the attention of ‘Jamie Foxx’ (played by… Jamie Foxx), who wants him for his next movie. If he’ll wear a dress. Just like him.
Will Mooney be strong and stay a ‘comedian’s comedian’ or will he take the white haberdashery dollar for the sake of his baby mama (Meagan Good), kid and his career?
To be honest, this feels more like something Jamie Foxx has wanted to get off his chest for a while than a TV show. It has some smart lines and some good actors, but honestly, I didn’t care about the characters, who were as dickish as anyone on Entourage and who had similar views towards women. It might be based on Foxx’s life, but it didn’t really feel real, with Pharoah’s interactions with Foxx coming across as more interested in sending himself up than acting like a potentially real version of himself.
Where it does work is in the examination of weak white racism – not KKK-style racism, but the “soft bigotry of low expectations”, the exploitation, the whitesplaining and the racism-while-trying-not-to-be-racist. Here White Famous can be funny, and Pharoah’s performance helps considerably to make the show both pointed and incisive. It’s certainly more watchable on this score than Dear White People and Insecure.
But for a show ostensibly about a man worried he’s going to lose his soul if he sacrifices things to achieve fame, you’d think it would try a bit harder to start him off with a soul, wouldn’t you? If he once had integrity, creative zeal and morals, he had them before he became ‘black famous’, since he’s already lost them by the start of the show. He’s really just a dick. A smart dick who can tell a joke.
So so what if he ends up in a dress? Or a movie set in space? At least he’ll be as famous as Eddie Murphy, hey? That’s not so bad.