“Dice” Season 2 opens with an “It’s a Wonderful Life” parody.
[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Dice” Season 2. Proceed at your own behest, but IndieWire believes “Dice” is not a show that can be spoiled by sharing genre plot details.]
Titled “It’s a Miserable Life,” the premiere shoots into an alternate reality — fitting, given it airs with “Twin Peaks” in Showtime’s Sunday night lineup — after Dice, the character inspired and played by Andrew Dice Clay, is told the world would be a better place without him in it. Specifically, a rabbi screams at him, “The world would be a better place if Andrew Dice Clay had never been born!”
Be it the fervor with which the words are conveyed or the religious status of the rabbi screaming them, Dice is profoundly affected. The next thing you know, he’s waking up in a hotel room, alone, with a whole new life. He’s not a washed-up comedian anymore. He never was one.
Instead, he’s a bespectacled salesman on a trip to Las Vegas to make a big pitch to a prospective client. His co-workers are ready to celebrate his 35 years with the company. His wife — a woman from his youth who he remembers for giving great blow-jobs — calls him in the morning to wish him well, and his sons are happy tech developers in northern California.
The premise is all set up rather quickly, with Dice reeling from the change as more and more familiar faces are re-introduced as their altered selves. Most clarifying among the changes between a Dice-filled and Dice-less world comes when Dice is sitting at the bar with his wife from another life, Carmen (Natasha Leggero). A newscaster on the TV mentions that Hillary Clinton is the current president, and she’s helped achieve world peace. Carmen says, “It’s such a relief she won, right?” Dice agrees, still baffled, and that’s the end of the discussion.
Like saying the word “period” at the end of a sentence, it’s a big moment and not just because Dice’s alternate reality seems more alluring than ever with each passing day in our current hellscape. Whether he’s in character or revealing a true side of himself, Dice is putting forth the belief that, without his influence on American culture, Donald Trump would never have become president. That world peace would be right around the corner only feels slightly more far-fetched.
But should it? It’s a big statement, especially considering how many fingers have been pointed at so many different reasons for our current president’s rise. Yet Dice rose to pop culture prominence around the same time as our Cheeto-in-Chief and via a macho persona many considered sexist and vulgar.(Not to mention, Clay appeared with Trump on Season 1 of “Celebrity Apprentice.”) He was a shock comic, and he was often accused at hiding behind the caveat “it’s just a joke!” when it seemed like much of what he said was adopted by his audience.
Is it that big of a stretch to blame Dice for helping to normalize a culture of patriarchal sexism to the point where a president could survive a sexual assault scandal by claiming it was just “locker room talk”? Decide for yourself, because “Dice” won’t say.
The premiere episode wraps up too simply; really, it ends on a joke. Dice is despondent about what he’s done until he finds out his sons are virgins. Sure, they may be happy, healthy, and successful instead of spoiled, lethargic, and living with their parents. But if they aren’t hearing the “squish” (as Dice calls it), they can’t be better off. This revelation, along with a few other discoveries about how his friends and family maybe aren’t as well-off as they seem, lead Dice to wake up, return to reality, and feel somewhat OK about his past.
Based on the first episode alone, it would be easy to dismiss “Dice” as an incomplete thought. Similar to Season 1, the series offers a concept that approaches an intriguing idea, but doesn’t follow through to the heart of the matter. We want to see Dice come to terms with his legacy in a real way, rather than make a lame joke and move on as if it was no big deal. The beginning and ending don’t match up, but the ending isn’t the end.
Episode 2 finds Dice again grappling with his past. A fortune teller literally tells him he has no future, in what she admits is an unprecedented vision. Like with the rabbi, Dice reacts as though he’s been punched in the gut. He resorts to digging through his past — in embarrassing fashion — instead of forging a future, which Carmen repeatedly reminds him to do.
The waning moments of Episode 2 are stronger. He doesn’t dismiss his immature self-distraction with a punchline. He takes it all in, trying to rediscover the best bits of the old Dice that might make for a better new Dice. He’s still lost, but he is looking.
In a six-episode season, one-for-two isn’t good enough. Worse yet, the literal last shot of Episode 2 teases an impossible future that gives Dice an easy out from his mid-life crisis. And that’s when it hit: Dice is the new Tony Soprano, except he’s not seeing a therapist. He’s making a TV show, indulging his damaged but inflated ego, without ever pushing hard enough to make his story worth watching.
Tony was a fascinating figure because he was a familiar figure: an Italian mob boss trying to be more than a good husband and father, but a good human being, despite what his position demanded he do. He struggled with that conflict, seeking out professional help to get him through it. That conflict drove the entire series, as “The Sopranos” dug into morality, existentialism, and mental illness (along with burying bodies).
“Dice” asks something similar without offering the rich rewards. Dice doesn’t like what he’s become and he’s wrestling with it. He’s a familiar figure because America remembers The Dice Man, but instead of discovering a new side of him, we’re asked to analyze the man who refuses to analyze himself. The audience is the therapist, and that makes it very hard for Dice to hear any advice.
Worse yet, it makes it difficult for the show to develop. “Dice” is going to be stuck in his miserable life long after Dice thinks he woke up.
“Dice” Season 2 premieres Sunday, August 20 at 10:30 p.m. ET on Showtime.