Befitting its meta narrative, the FXX series “Dave” and its lead character, Dave Burd, tend to follow parallel paths. The first season sees the aspiring rapper (stage name: Lil Dicky) working to prove he’s a legitimate artist, not just a parody of real musicians. Similarly, the show had to prove itself as more than a prestige TV imitator — a low-brow copycat of “Atlanta” or “Curb Your Enthusiasm” distinguished only by its many, many dick jokes. Check and check. Not only is “Dave” telling its own story from its own perspective, co-creators Dave Burd and Jeff Schaffer recognize the opportunity provided when artistic ambition meets gangbuster ratings and designed a stellar Season 2 as a deep-dive into issues like privilege, auteur theory, and appropriation. To prompt such topics, Dave is given an opportunity of his own: a bonafide rap album backed by a record label.
But where the pressure of Dave’s big break pushes him toward his worst narcissistic impulses, “Dave” thrives, and by the end of the second season, our star rapper’s breakthrough moment — arriving after so much self-inflicted adversity — proves moving enough to elicit actual tears.
It also sets up everyone’s favorite TV trope: the road-trip plot. Season 3 kicks off with Lil Dicky’s “Looking for Love” tour in full swing, balancing the pure pleasures of life on the open road and the inevitable issues that arise when you’re away from home. Still basking in the catharsis of Dave’s triumphant VMAs performance, the first three episodes show an uptick in buoyant laughs while remaining steadfast in their character-based curiosities. GaTa (playing himself) remains the world’s best hype man, but he’s performing solo with his own material, too. Dave’s manager and roommate, Mike (Andrew Santino), is keeping the bus running smoothly, and Elz (Travis Bennett) is producing new beats by day, DJ’ing by night. Emma’s long-running Lil Dicky documentary continues, albeit in earnest now that her subject is a rising star, not just her no-name ex-coworker and roommate’s ex-boyfriend.
Ally (Taylor Misiak) is the only missing member of the original group, but her break-up with Dave creates a presence of its own. Season 3 starts with a music video-esque scene where Dave hooks up with a fan, only to be disappointed that she’s more interested in bragging about bedding Lil Dicky than dating Dave. Having lost Ally (twice, if you count last season’s halfhearted attempt to win her back), Dave isn’t about to descend into a depressed state where he sleeps with superfans at each tour stop — he’s too self-aware and, frankly, too generally chipper to spend much time wallowing. (Which is good, because a “Don Draper post-divorce” season of “Dave” sounds as unbearable as it does predictable.)
No, Dave is seeking genuine connection, but “Dave” avoids familiar storytelling traps in that pursuit, as well. The premiere pivots from a potential new sweetheart to a specific pitfall of fame. Episode 2, “Harrison Ave,” blends past and present, as Dave helms a music video about his first childhood sweetheart. Episode 3 pivots to the show’s true love story — Dave and GaTa — to explore the intimate connection that can stem from recognizing our cultural disconnections… OK, it’s kind of about that, and kind of something all its own. “Dave” can turn on a dime with the best serialized shows out there, and after just three episodes, it’s clear the new season’s eyes-wide-open approach to its core cast remains as eagle-eyed as ever. Season 3 approaches similar themes from past seasons, but tackles each with a precision that honors Dave individual progress as much as it brings added relevancy to the show around him.
By now, it almost goes without saying that “Dave” is consistently, unfailingly funny. Lil Dicky’s music speaks for itself — especially when realized in video form — but it also sets the tone for the series’ sense of humor. There are big, loud moments of comedy, like an ill-conceived prop penis, and quiet little quips that you have to lean in to catch. (Silent reactions, across the cast, are extremely on point.) There are jokes that double as red herrings, jokes that foreshadow future jokes, and jokes that are so random, so crass, so absurd they actually ground “Dave” in its own rap star reality.
As my colleague Steve Greene pointed out, Burd can create comedy – and naturalism — through cadence. His long, lyrical spiels sound song-like even when he’s off-mic, yet they always find the right pitch for the punch-line and are never off-beat. The cast chemistry is strong, and even though these initial episodes are dialed in on Dave, experience indicates an expansion is on the way. (I’m not sure how they could top GaTa’s Season 2 arc, but I’m excited to see them flesh out other high-potential characters like Mike and Emma.)
In Season 3, “Dave” is basking in the confidence earned from its exceptional prior entry, but it’s not resting on its laurels. The same could be said for Dave. While the series is keen to amplify his vulnerabilities (something there’s little room for in his actual music) and build obstacles to overcome (hence the focus on lost love), Dave is relaxed enough on tour to take nights off. He’s out of his own head and able to listen to his friends again. He’s getting where he wants to go, and he’s passing his good times along to us, without turning off the curiosity tap. I dare not predict where “Dave” will end up in Season 3, but no matter what your driving interest — pure laughs, or something deeper — I’m convinced he’s worth your time.
“Dave” Season 3 premieres Wednesday, April 5 with two episodes on FXX. New episodes will be released weekly and available to stream on Hulu.