One of the highest compliments you pays to a TV show is this: It understands precisely what kind of show it is. And that’s very much the situation for “What Would Diplo Do?” the new Viceland scripted humor showrun by and starring James Vehicle Der Beek.
What is a Diplo? You don’t necessarily need to find out the response to benefit from the series, aimed by Brandon Dermer and starring Truck Der Beek as a world-famous DJ who journeys the entire world with an eclectic staff of characters doing tired concerts and getting into hijinks. However the answer is the fact that Diplo (created Thomas Wesley Pentz) is a genuine EDM designer who (theoretically) is almost nothing like Truck Der Beek’s portrayal. And that simple truth is part of why is the series work so well, as Truck Der Beek pushes his personality family portrait beyond simple caricature in to the most out-there realms.
Van Der Beek is a first-time showrunner here, but he has had a lot of fun before several years experimenting with his own image. It’s amazing to see him apply that same method of someone else’s. The show is accessible in a hyper-real world that often dips into dream, as Diplo’s insecurities and deepest thoughts emerge from behind the bravado and branded T-shirts.
That is clearly a huge factor in supporting us understand just what’s going on in his head. Filled with ego but with no scarcity of kindness to go with it, there’s almost an innocence in Vehicle Der Beek’s Diplo, which demonstrates essential to making the character bearable by any means.
The biggest hazard “Diplo” faces is now too one-note, the best possibility when you consider the show’s origins. The short film “A Day in the life span of Diplo,” a promo directed by Dermer, first presented Van Der Beek in his Diplo persona, along with ninjas and a equine. Sure, the joke did the trick for 3 minutes, but making it help ten 30-minute shows is a much bigger hill to climb.
Fortunately, in the two episodes offered for critics, the series dodges that bullet, thanks to some smart storytelling choices and the personas which surround Diplo (his true “fam,” if you will). They offer a nice counterbalance to Diplo’s own absurdities.
Standouts from the accommodating cast include Dora Madison as Diplo’s put-upon helper Karen, often given the most impossible and dangerous of jobs, and Bobby Lee as Diplo’s often rage-filled administrator. (This is a notable season for Lee, who also stole many, many displays in Judd Apatow’s “Love.”)
At the primary of “What Would Diplo Do?”, though, is Diplo himself: One of the show’s strongest alternatives is just how that it integrates his music into each show. With no music, Diplo would you need to be “some white dude on the stage pressing buttons” (to quote the show’s second occurrence), and Dermer’s record as a music video recording director comes in convenient. (He’s directed videos for Stress at the Disco, Wavves and Jon LaJoie, amongst others.) Each cold open sparks with both humor and tempo, a aesthetic dynamism that carries on throughout all of those other episode.
After so many narratives about tortured musicians and artists, it’s fun to simply benefit from the antics of someone who’s more proficient than intelligent, featured in a show that isn’t afraid going silly or odd in the name of laughs. There seemingly isn’t anything Diplo wouldn’t do, and it’s amusing as hell to find out what he would.