October 16, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere + 1 Review: “White Famous”


WHITE FAMOUS:  Sunday 9PM on Showtime – Change the Channel

Showtime’s shaky new comedy WHITE FAMOUS is spectacularly ill-timed for the week after the downfall of Harvey Weinstein.  The premiere half-hour has as its comic centerpiece a sequence where a famous Hollywood figure meets with an aspiring young performer in his trailer, sitting so that the visitor can clearly see his genitals.  The follow-up episode includes a scene where a famous director’s assistant is apparently so filled with lust at the sight of the same young performer that she’s on his lap and talking about porn almost immediately, to the director’s delight.

White Famous couldn’t have known that these scenes would be marked by current events.  But the coincidence does put the show’s sensibilities in question.  It may be, in short, not the best moment for a return to the universe of Californication.  That’s where White Famous lives, by virtue of its lead creator Tom Kapinos (Buddy Lewis and Chris Spencer are also credited as creators, but they no longer seem to be involved with the project), to the extent that Stephen Tobolowsky actually plays his Californication character here.  That series, you’ll recall, was a star vehicle for David Duchovny, who played a womanizing Hollywood writer who was irresistible to virtually every female who crossed his path (even as they told him how much they despised him), but who was still in love with the estranged mother of his daughter.  This time, Jay Pharoah plays Floyd Mooney, a womanizing stand-up comic who is catnip to anonymous women, but who’s still in love with Sadie (Cleopatra Coleman), the estranged mother of his son.

You see the resemblance.  The twist this time is that Floyd is a black man in his 20s, and so there’s plenty of dialogue about what it means to be black in an industry of white men.  White Famous plays with political incorrectness, but when Floyd launches into a riff about Bill Cosby not being so bad, it’s not clear just where the joke is supposed to be.  Despite the posturing, White Famous is more concerned with Floyd’s tight grasp on his masculinity:  he’s outraged to discover that he’s supposed to play a woman in drag, and instantly jealous when he hears that Sadie has a date.

Duchovny’s character on Californication was hardly forward-thinking, but he was middle-aged and self-consciously fading, and there was a wryness about his opinions; it often wasn’t clear whether he believed half of what he was saying himself.  Also, he had the charisma and acting chops of David Duchovny.  Jay Pharoah is a gifted impressionist (his Denzel Washington, a mainstay of his SNL years unpacked for the pilot, is still stellar), but under Tim Story’s direction he’s not a particularly engaging actor, and he doens’t convince us that Floyd is any kind of a superstar waiting to happen.  Jacob Ming-Trent plays his roommate Balls and has most of the best lines.  As Floyd’s Indian agent, Utkarsh Ambudkar is burdened with schtick about his and Floyd’s ethnic backgrounds.  The guest stars are all permitted to go over the top, including Executive Producer Jamie Foxx (as a version of himself, he’s the one with the free-swinging private parts in the pilot), Michael Rappaport as the semi-psychotic director who has Floyd seemingly seduced and arrested as a form of Method acting, and Steve Zissis as another director who’s less color-blind than he thinks.

Another bit of bad timing for White Famous is that its premiere coincided with the final episodes of Survivor’s Remorse, a thoughtful and deceptively ambitious story about a wildly successful young black man and the people around him.  That series improved as it went on, and perhape White Famous will as well.  But its start is committed to noise for its own sake, and it feels dated in all the wrong ways.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."