Dave isn’t listening.
Standing in the middle of downtown Seoul, the rapper known as Lil Dicky peppers his intern/translator, Dan, with questions and observations about the shoot for his latest music video. “Are the details Korean enough?” he asks, not waiting for Dan to pass along the broad query to their director before moving on to another thought. “Did you know that 90 percent of the world’s consumable seaweed comes from Korea?” he asks, trying to prove how well he knows the local culture.
To be fair, Dave (played by Dave Burd, who inspired the FXX comedy) is a bit stressed. He’s under pressure to produce his first studio album, he’s spending a ton of money on the debut single’s video, and the K-pop star he brought in as a guest vocalist (to lend the song authenticity and boost its visibility) hasn’t shown up to set.
But the thing is, when you don’t listen, it’s hard to have anything valuable to say, and Dave struggles mightily over the first half of Season 2 to write a single song. The lyrics for his K-pop number are filled with matter-of-fact observations like, “I just woke up in Korea,” “I’m in Seoul,” and “I took a shit in Korea.” When asked why he wrote a K-pop song in the first place, Dave says “it’s like a freaking cheat code,” citing the “million billion” views Korean pop songs get when they hit. It’s clear from his quick, one-way conversation with Dan that Dave isn’t invested in his art, let alone the people helping him make it, so much as he’s obsessed with success.
Over the course of an excellent (and severe) second season, people become consistent casualties to Dave’s singular focus. It started at the end of Season 1, when his girlfriend Ally (Taylor Misiak) left him, after becoming increasingly frustrated with her boyfriend’s single-minded ambition. In a moving maid-of-honor speech at her sister’s wedding, Ally beautifully illustrates how playing second fiddle to someone you love can create an isolating effect, where all the love and joy squeezed into a few fleeting moments can’t make up for their daunting absence in the big picture. While their relationship couldn’t be saved, it seems like Dave finally hears the voices shouting around him one episode later, in the finale, when — after throwing a post-breakup temper tantrum by pitching an unsaleable and offensive 13-minute song about prison rape to his new label — he decided against “leaking” the song on live radio and instead leaned on his well-honed freestyle skills to make a good impression.
That’s where we left Dave: on the upswing. But alone for too long, the self-obsessed creator has lost his way again. When he’s not cloaked in Korean garb, pretending to be the second-coming of BTS, he’s struggling to make music from a mansion nestled within the Hollywood Hills. Dave’s label is renting the place on his behalf, hoping to speed up his process, but the palatial estate is so big he’s able to avoid his roommate/manager Mike (Andrew Santino) and hype man, GaTa (played by the character’s real-life inspiration, GaTa) whenever they’re saying anything he doesn’t want to hear.
In Season 2, Dave chooses not to hear quite a bit — it’s almost as though Burd and showrunner Jeff Schaffer craft episodes around Dave’s avoidance techniques. In Korea, there’s simply too much going on for him to confront any lingering issues. In Episode 2, he becomes obsessed with a minor ant problem. Episode 3, “The Observer,” is an epic bro-down masquerading as “work,” where Dave and his producing partner Benny (Benny Blanco) act like 10-year-old kids — because they can. Lavish households, food, and activities abound, so instead of focusing on the work in front of them, they let themselves screw around (by rubbing their balls on each other) under the guise of artistic exploration.
Byron Cohen / FX
“Dave” can over-invest in this kind of childish humor, but the gross-out gags established in Season 1 (lest we forget what happened when Dave went hiking) are even more pointed here. They exemplify the long leash Dave is working with and serve as telling juxtaposition to the societal handcuffs slapped on his non-white friends. Elz is hustling to make a name for himself in a crowded entertainment space, and Dave can’t be bothered to be happy for him, let alone help out. Emma (Christine Ko) gets screamed at for being a bad driver, and Dave can’t understand why his Asian American friend gets so upset. GaTa, a fan favorite who continues to blossom in Season 2, suffers in loyal silence. In Episode 5, “Bar Mitzvah,” Dave obsesses over petty disputes at the titular party (where he’s making three times his normal rate), while his hype man gets his car towed and endures an unforgiving odyssey to retrieve it, all so he won’t miss the gig.
“Dave” started broadening its perspective in Season 1, shifting to standout stories led by GaTa, Elz, and Emma, but Season 2 tweaks the format. Instead of devoting episodes to supporting characters, it devotes its season to critiquing Dave’s singular identity — namely, how his viewpoint is rooted in whiteness and privilege. Whether it’s an awkward conversation with two Black men about his unchecked immaturity or a painful interview with Kareem Abdul-Jabaar on oblivious appropriation, Dave is reminded again and again that his silly, seemingly innocent antics don’t translate to meaningful music or a meaningful life; that he might be a good dude at heart, but not meaning any harm isn’t the same as not doing any harm.
After all, Dave is playing in an art form built and dominated by Black voices. He’s a white rapper, which comes with certain marketable benefits (Dave himself admits “white rappers sell more records — it sucks, but it’s the truth”), and yet that awareness doesn’t translate outside of his own path to superstardom. “Dave” Season 2 doesn’t satirize its lead or make him into a full-blown antihero; it can be hard to spend time with him, just as it’s hard to watch anyone make careless mistake after careless mistake, but these first five episodes posit him as the (atypical) oblivious white guy — the one who knows he needs to be seen as an anti-racist, but isn’t invested enough to be anything more than “not a racist.” That shows in how he treats his friends, and it shows in how he sees himself. Dave constantly demands to be taken seriously; that he’s not a parody act or a comedian, but a real rapper. And yet he’s unable to see that his rhythm and rhymes don’t carry significance just because he’s got talent. He has to have something to say.
Until he starts listening, Dave will likely remain at a loss for words. But thankfully for everyone watching, those behind “Dave” have been paying astute attention.
“Dave” Season 2 premieres its first two episodes Wednesday, June 16 at 10 p.m. on FXX. New episodes will debut weekly on FXX and be made available the next day via FX on Hulu.