At the end of Dave‘s second season, everything goes wrong for Dave. The rapper known as Lil Dicky (played by Dave Burd, the real Lil Dicky) finally releases his first album at the worst possible time. A surprise Ariana Grande release ripples all over his VMAs debut. His label executives hand him off to lesser label executives, who keep damning Dave with faint praise. Penith is the “No. 1 comedy album in the country,” they insist, with “a lot of traction around Delaware.”
Dave used to almost be a regular ensemble comedy: Dave, Dave’s roommate, Dave’s childhood bestie, Dave’s girlfriend, Dave’s girlfriend’s roommate (who sleeps with Dave’s childhood bestie), Dave’s new pal with a big personality. Now those relationships are frayed. Ex-girlfriend Ally (Taylor Misiak) has a new guy. Mike (Andrew Santino) won’t be joining the tour. “Just keep paying me to be your friend and I’ll be there,” Elz (Travis Bennett) tells Dave, and it doesn’t sound like a joke.
“I want everybody in this room to know that I feel very alone right now,” Dave declares. He only has himself to blame. But Dave‘s season 2 finale isn’t a bummer. Coming after an amazing run of episodes, the episode ends with a soaring climax that swells with joy. Coming, climax, swells: Hard not to think nasty thoughts about a show so frequently focused on Lil Dicky’s, errr, dicky. Dave is never just about its title character. Hell, Dave isn’t even the only Dave.
All hail GaTa. The rapper more or less plays himself — and his real name is Davionte Ganter. In the finale, his sister Stace (Jasmine Akakpo) makes a point of calling him “Dave” a few times. If these were actors playing fictional people with made-up names, this could be a nifty bit of connect-the-dots theme writing. Burd and GaTa are actual real-life friends, though. It’s artistically symmetrical only because it’s cosmically symmetrical.
So the episode’s title, “Dave,” is a double reference. Lil Dicky is suffering some privileged calamities. He’s got no support from the label. The VMAs want to chop his performance. People don’t care about his billboard. Meanwhile, GaTa is struggling for every dollar. He sells off friends-and-family wristbands for the album-release party. He borrows $8,000 to buy a nice car for his music video. His mother (Carlease Burke) worries he’s cycling into a bipolar episode.
This leads to a brutal argument between Dave and GaTa. The conversation runs almost five minutes, from “Hey, man, you good?” to “Get the f— outta here!” GaTa asks why Dave hasn’t collaborated with him on a song yet, and Dave calls GaTa’s music “generic.” “I make music for me, myself, and I!” GaTa says, pointing to the tiny closet that is his recording studio. Meanwhile, GaTa points out, Dave spent this whole year “in the mansion, rapping about writer’s block, ants, and [wordless sound of pure disgust].”
Dave can perform brazen conceptual stunts. Season 2’s standout episode, “Somebody Date Me,” portrayed a day-in-the-life dating app flirtation between two people living chaotic screen-filled lives. One of those people happened to be Doja Cat, who brought glamorous wit to the exhausting grind of internet-age fame.
When you move past all the showbiz gutter-glitter, Dave succeeds because of its precision focus on its characters. The flashback episode “Ad Man” revealed hidden depths of Dave’s friendship with Emma (Christine Ko). Every Mike scene turned into a mini-masterpiece of hilarious sadsackery. (Santino is great when Mike is sad and when Mike is funny, and I’m still laughing over his sharp retort to the label’s stat-quoting exec: “Are you a computer or a guy?”) Burd keeps showing more sides as an actor — I loved the even-nerdier younger Dave in “Ad Man” — and keeps finding new ways to play himself as a clueless symbol for anything anyone will possibly find problematic.
And the GaTa-Dave argument was one of this TV year’s best conversations because every jab felt earned. Season 2 took Dave’s hysterical ambitions seriously enough to give him a mind-palace theme journey (and full credit to Burd for playing his own ego as an oddly mesmerizing hairless freakmonster). But it also tracked how Dave’s selfish dedication to his own brand keeps wrecking his social life. Even his attempts at connection turned selfish. He wanted Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to write him a nice profile. He wrote a tender breakup song about Ally, and got upset when she didn’t love it. He doesn’t know his mom’s favorite food — which, come to think of it, hmm, I have to make a phone call.
Now here’s GaTa throwing all that back in his face. “You don’t even treat me like an equal,” he says. There’s a tricky paradox underlying this pivotal moment in Dave’s career. He’s at a just-about-to-break-through phase, when hangers-on start sticking their claws into his success. You can tell how real his true friends are specifically because they’re abandoning him.
The finale’s only minor misstep comes earlier. Director Alma Har’el expertly stages the VMAs rehearsal as a parody of self-serious rap decadence, all modern dance and messiah imagery. (Paul Urcioli returns from Dave‘s very first scene as a confounded urologist.) It really does go on a bit long, though, and lacks the maniacal glee of the “Jail” music video that centerpieced last year’s finale.
The script, credited to Burd, saves the real pyrotechnics for later. We see the other main characters watching the VMAs as Dave prepares to perform. It seems like GaTa is watching on TV too… until he ascends onstage, rapping a true duet with Lil Dicky. Their performance segues into a club somewhere in Delaware. The audience is small, but they’re having a hell of a good time.
Season 2 was overstuffed with entertainment, and I sort of wish it found more room for Bennett and Ko. Misiak is great, too, and I worry that post-breakup emotional realism will keep reducing her presence further. Conversely: How fun are Gina Hecht and David Paymer as Dave’s parents? And how boggling was it to see Dave, J Balvin, Swae Lee, and Slim Jxmmi have an off-the-cuff debate about whether their clashing music video ideas were homophobic, misogynistic, or racist? And wasn’t Doja Cat awesome?
Confession: I did not know who Doja Cat was before that episode. Some of Dave‘s hip-hop/internet/anything-teens-know-about references probably go way over my head. But season 2 confirmed that Burd and co-creator Jeff Schaffer can balance heartfelt sitcom hilarity with willful experimentation. The show has a merry time tracking Dave’s ascension into life as a public figure. Those fame parts are often great, but I prefer the parts that delve deep into Dave’s private life, and the private struggles of the people around him. That’s right, I said it. I like Dave‘s private parts.
Finale grade: A-
Season 2 grade: A
Dave (TV Show)