‘The Vince Staples Show’: A terrific Afro-surrealist satire
(Credits: Netflix)

Editor's Choice

‘The Vince Staples Show’: A terrific Afro-surrealist satire

Among the chaos of insipid offerings like Fool Me Once and Players, Netflix casually dropped a brilliant new series. With hints of the critically acclaimed Atlanta and Reservation Dogs but decidedly unique in its world-building and sense of humour, The Vince Staples Show is a delicious bite-sized addition to the Afro-surrealist genre.

From the parables of Octavia Butler and the hypnotically avant-garde cosmic futurism of Sun Ra to the modern mania of Boots Riley and Donald Glover’s oeuvre, the Afro-surrealist genre has ridden many waves. And finally, it has arrived at the doorstep of Netlfix with the Kenya Barris-produced The Vince Staples Show

This is not quite the absurdity of I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson, the ultimate manifestation of anxiety in short comedy form, but something else. Created by Staples, the five-episode Netflix satire takes inspiration from the rapper/singer’s life and throws in moments of absurdity steeped in Black existentialism. With an astutely keen awareness of its place within contemporary pop culture, the series draws inspiration from and pays homage to everything from Abbot Elementary and David Lynch to Quentin Tarantino’s cult classics Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction.

Each episode offers a glimpse into Staples’ surreal yet oddly relatable world as he navigates a society where he is rich and famous but not quite enough, continuously being recognised at the most hazardous hours. The series starts with Staples’ brief stint in jail following a routine traffic stop. Through encounters with hostile inmates, racist cops who cannot stop gushing over how cool they find him, and aspiring singers, Staples weaves through the absurd and the mundane. 

It reaches bizarre new heights in the second episode, ‘Black Business’, where a simple sojourn at a bank goes bonkers and ends on the darkest note. From navigating bank heists to family tensions over mac and cheese at a barbeque, Staples maintains his deadpan delivery and near-permanent furrowed brow.

In a television landscape dominated by cookie-cutter comedies and formulaic dramas, The Vince Staples Show stands out as bold and experimentally quirky. It doesn’t shy away from the heavier aspects of American politics, from making commentary on mass incarceration to underlining their insouciance towards gun violence. Plus, it offers a refreshingly unfiltered glimpse into the mind of one of hip-hop’s most curious figures right now.

But The Vince Staples Show is not Atlanta

While it’s tempting to draw parallels between the surrealist undertones of its predecessors and The Vince Staples Show, such associations risk overshadowing the distinct imprint of Staples himself. If you are a fan of Glover or even Hiro Murai’s work and have already gone through their filmographies, then watching The Vince Staples Show seems like a natural progression. Staples is not bothered by the comparisons. As he told Variety, “That has never been a bad thing to me because those shows [Atlanta and Dave] are extremely successful. People comparing you with things that have been hyper-successful can’t hurt.” 

However, do not go in expecting another Atlanta (or even Swarm). The Vince Staples Show is in a league of its own among the many other stellar works of the Afro-surrealist genre. If anything, with each episode being roughly 20 to 26 minutes in length, the series leaves you wanting more. In The Vince Staples Show, Staples, like his semi-fictional alter-ego, manages to forge his own path, eschewing emulation in favour of further exploration of what it means to be young, Black, and moderately rich and famous in a world that continues to uphold its many prejudices.

You can now stream The Vince Staples Show on Netflix (or tune in for an ending explainer) and catch the trailer here: