Surreal and Sharp Rapper Comedy 'The Vince Staples Show' Is Your Next One-Sitting Netflix Binge

The musician and actor plays himself in this five-part limited series, which'll help fill the 'Atlanta'-sized hole in your streaming queue.
Sarah Ward
Published on February 16, 2024

It was true when Seinfeld made a series about a real-life standup comedian playing a fictionalised version of himself one of the world's biggest sitcoms in the 90s. It remained accurate when Larry David started riffing on his own existence in Curb Your Enthusiasm, which will end in 2024 after 12 seasons over a quarter-century — and also when Pete Davidson leapt from making his life movie fodder in The King of Staten Island to turning it into TV in Bupkis. Donald Glover wasn't directly referencing his own career in Atlanta, and neither The Other Two nor Girls5eva bring exact replicas of real-life figures to the screen, but the same idea pumps through them as well: fame or proximity to it doesn't stop anyone from grappling with life's frustrating minutiae.

Add The Vince Staples Show to the list, too, with the five-part Netflix limited series arriving on Thursday, February 15 and featuring its namesake as a take on himself. Whether or not you know who he is is part of the show's joke. On- and off- screen, he's a rapper and actor. Staples' very real single 'Norf Norf' gets quoted to him in the TV comedy. The fact that he's been in Abbott Elementary is referenced in the debut episode. But just attempting to have an ordinary day doing everyday things in an average way — driving home, heading to the bank, attending a family reunion, visiting an amusement park and returning to his old school — is as impossible for him as it is for us all.

Sometimes, Staples' celebrity complicates matters in The Vince Staples Show. It also never helps. Usually, he's stuck navigating Murphy's law, so asking for a loan ends up with him caught up in a robbery, while endeavouring to source something decent to eat at a theme park takes him on an absurdist odyssey that winks at David Lynch and the Coen brothers. Having an entertainment career doesn't stop him from being confused for someone else by the police (Killing It's Scott MacArthur, You People's Bryan Greenberg and The Menu's Arturo Castro) — the same cops who ask for free tickets to his shows while they're locking him up — or ensure that cashiers treat him politely. If it assists with anything, it's with giving Staples a deadpan acceptance that anything and everything might come his way. Twice asked if something interesting happened during his day by his girlfriend Deja (Andrea Ellsworth, Truth Be Told), his reply is "not really", even though viewers have just witnessed the exact opposite in both instances.

Detailing his real resume isn't the series' style, but the IRL Staples has one. Hailing from Long Beach, California, where The Vince Staples Show is also set — well, in a dreamlike version of it — his association with hip hop collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All helped bring him to attention. (Frank Ocean, Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt have also been members.) 'Big Fish' and 'Magic' are among his singles. He's enjoyed support slots on Childish Gambino's This Is America tour, several times for Tyler, the Creator and even for Flume in Australia in 2016. Dope and the 2023 White Men Can't Jump remake are on Staples' filmography, plus Insecure and voicing Lazor Wulf's eponymous animated wolf on the small screen. Knowing this isn't crucial to watching The Vince Staples Show, however. That said, it does demonstrate how keenly he's tearing down the idea that pop-culture success means a life of ease in this sharp satire.

Each of the series' quintet of instalments largely takes place in one setting. Each shares a naming convention: 'Pink House', 'Black Business', 'Brown Family', 'Red Door' and 'White Boy'. And, each charts events that both are and aren't the norm, all while questioning what's really ordinary anyway. As every episode gets pondering, it does so in layers, skewing surreal but also dissecting race and class in the process (Atlanta comes to mind frequently). In the opening chapter, where Staples spends a night in jail after being arrested on an outstanding warrant, the rapper-with-a-criminal-record stereotype is unpacked and mass incarceration becoming its own industry is called out, for instance. Also, a cellmate keeps singing, hoping to score a collaboration. Someone in a neighbouring cell threatens violence against Staples on sight. Then, when he's given something to eat, his sandwich comes with a draw-two Uno card inside.

There's no weak episodes in The Vince Staples Show's five-part run (and no weak performances, either). In the second chapter, which nods to 1995 film Dead Presidents, holding up a bank has rarely been this bizarre. Staples is only onsite to get funding for his dream of starting a healthy cereal brand, which the manager scoffs at. Then, it turns out that one of the robbers (Myles Bullock, Black Mafia Family) is a childhood pal. When the series sends Vince, Deja and his mother Anita (Vanessa Bell Calloway, This Is Us) to a family barbecue next, mac 'n' cheese proves a source of pride and the reason to hold a grudge. Hell hath no fury like someone instructed to bring a prize dish, only to discover that a cousin (Staci Lynn Fletcher, The Neighbourhood) got there first. Staples also navigates his relatives' reactions to his success — wanting to be involved, but thinking that his celebrity represents more than it does.

As Staples and Deja take her younger brother and his friends to a beach-themed attraction, the artificiality of all amusement parks and the concept of packaged happiness is thrust into view. Announcements over the loudspeaker are particularly biting, and falling afoul of the costumed mascots sparks repercussions. In the final episode, the show's protagonist is asked back to his childhood school to chat to the students. The kids don't care but a classmate (Patrick Walker, Lessons in Chemistry) he knew back in the day does. Cue a showdown with nods to Quentin Tarantino — both Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction — alongside Barry, another Californian-set comedy that's as perceptive as it is hilarious, as well as exceptionally well-shot.

Staples writes, stars and executive produces The Vince Staples Show, with help: Ian Edelman (How to Make It in America) and Maurice Williams (Entergalactic) co-created it with him, while Kenya Barris (Black-ish) also executive produces. As the series gets gleefully but pointedly offbeat — proving uncanny while making more than a few statements — he also leaves viewers wanting more. Its five episodes are so easy to binge in one sitting (and timed accordingly, with each chapter between 19–26 minutes in length) that initially pressing play means settling in for the full experience. Anything interesting happen? Yes, immensely, unpredictably, hilariously and brilliantly.

Check out the trailer for The Vince Staples Show below:

The Vince Staples Show streams via Netflix from Thursday, February 15, 2024.

Published on February 16, 2024 by Sarah Ward
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