The Vince Staples Show review: The rapper makes magic with this dark, offbeat comedy

Vince Staples, known for his rap prowess, steps into the world of scripted comedy in Netflix’s “The Vince Staples Show,” where he plays a version of himself, albeit loosely. This “limited series of satirical tales” takes a darkly humorous and refreshingly candid approach to storytelling, focusing less on the intricacies of the music industry and more on the everyday struggles of a Long Beach native just trying to navigate life.

The concise season, an extension of Staples’ 2019 digital series, comprises five episodes, each clocking in at under 26 minutes. From the get-go, Staples and showrunner Ian Edelman plunge viewers into Vince’s world, starting with his unexpected stint in a holding cell after a minor traffic infraction. Whether grappling with law enforcement, attempting to secure a small business loan, or enduring a tense family reunion with his fiery mother, Anita (played by Vanessa Bell Calloway), Vince’s celebrity status looms in the background. A wry encounter with a cop who greets him with a snippet of his own lyrics underscores the juxtaposition between his public persona and his private realities. Yet, Vince, both on screen and off, maintains a pragmatic, almost detached perspective on his music career, viewing it simply as a job rather than a defining aspect of his identity. As he quips to a fellow detainee, “It’s just my job, for real. You know, I’ve never even had an iPod.”

Vince Staples as Vince Staples, Scott MacArthur as Officer Boucher, and Arturo Castro as Officer Gutierrez in episode 101 of The Vince Staples Show

For newcomers to Vince Staples’ world, the premiere of “The Vince Staples Show” offers a glimpse into the rapper’s backstory: Raised in Long Beach, he’s left his turbulent past behind, aspiring to lead a quieter life with his nurse girlfriend, Deja (played by Andrea Ellsworth), sharing evenings of dinner and TV on the couch. Yet, the realities of his environment continually challenge his desire for peace. Set against the backdrop of a Long Beach where danger lurks around every corner, the show paints a picture of a community where threats are commonplace and safety is a luxury (“Remember, beach buddies, report violence before you retaliate!” chirps a PA announcement at the Surf City amusement park).

While each episode stands alone, a recurring theme emerges: Your past is an ever-present force. Sometimes, this proves advantageous for Vince. In the standout episode “Black Business,” Vince finds himself unexpectedly caught up in a bank robbery orchestrated by an old neighborhood acquaintance. Amidst the chaos, Vince uses his familiarity with the robbers to broker a deal with the bank manager, showcasing his resourcefulness in the face of danger.

However, familial ties can also stir up explosive conflicts. When Vince’s mother, Anita (played by Vanessa Bell Calloway), discovers that her cousin Paulette (Staci Lynn Fletcher) has also brought mac and cheese to a barbecue, she launches into a mission of vengeance, fueled by decades-old grudges. Anita’s fiery determination and sharp wit add a dynamic layer to the series, suggesting rich potential for further exploration of her character.

Vince Staples as Vince Staples and Myles Bullock as Bank Robber in Episode 102 of The Vince Staples Show

“The Vince Staples Show” strikes a balance between humor and grit, presenting a protagonist who is both amusing and authentically flawed. Vince Staples, known for his laid-back charm in roles like Maurice on Abbott Elementary, embodies a sense of resigned stoicism in his portrayal of a fictionalized version of himself. This Vince doesn’t shy away from showcasing his less savory traits; he can be abrasive and self-serving, navigating life’s challenges with a pragmatic approach.

While the season’s brevity limits the opportunity for a comprehensive character arc, it effectively captures Vince’s realization that, despite personal growth, external perceptions may remain unchanged. In Long Beach, law enforcement officers may request tickets to his shows, but they also mistake him for another Black man with a criminal record. Likewise, a visit to his high school alma mater dredges up old animosities, plunging Vince into a perilous confrontation. The series maintains a streak of fatalism throughout, culminating in a finale that echoes its bleak undercurrent.

Staples’ versatility extends beyond music, as evidenced by his forays into acting and publishing, including the graphic novel “Limbo Beach” released in 2022. While “The Vince Staples Show” may ultimately be a singular venture for the artist, its impact resonates. To borrow from one of his memorable singles, viewers should appreciate the project for what it is — a touch of magic brought to the screen by Staples’ creative vision.

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