Mix­ing re­al­ity and fic­tion

James Van Der Beek of­fers an ab­sur­dist look at the EDM life in his lat­est show, writes

The Press - The Box - - FREE-TO-AIR -

Among tens of thou­sands of peo­ple at Shaun White’s Air & Style at Ex­po­si­tion Park in Los An­ge­les in Fe­bru­ary, a man in a black shirt and match­ing base­ball hat read­ing ‘‘De­cent’’ across the front is run­ning along the front bar­ri­cades, col­lect­ing high-fives from deliri­ous fans.

It’s a typ­i­cal, cel­e­bra­tion-ready scene at elec­tronic dance mu­sic (EDM) fes­ti­vals, which in this case was head­lined by the boom­ing, Caribbean-in­formed beats of Ma­jor Lazer, a group co­founded by the su­per­star DJ known as Di­plo. Ex­cept the fig­ure in the crowd was not the in­de­mand pro­ducer who has worked with M.I.A. and Bey­once. It was James Van Der Beek in a wispy mous­tache act­ing as Di­plo for the new Viceland se­ries What Would Di­plo Do?. But for all the fame pop star­dom af­fords, not ev­ery­body no­ticed the dif­fer­ence.

‘‘The funny thing is half the peo­ple were like ‘James Van Der Beek?’ And other peo­ple — you know, it was dark out, I’m sure some peo­ple were in­tox­i­cated,’’ ex­plains 31-year-old se­ries di­rec­tor Bran­don Der­mer, who worked with Di­plo (born Thomas Wes­ley Pentz) and fes­ti­val or­gan­is­ers to ar­range the guer­rilla-style shoot that ap­pears in the show’s first episode. But many peo­ple had no clue.

‘‘He’s wear­ing a shirt that says ‘Di­plo’ on the back, he’s got the hat,’’ Der­mer adds. ‘‘Some peo­ple were com­ing up, ‘Dude, I saw you in Ve­gas last month, you were great!’’’

It’s that kind of blur be­tween re­al­ity and fic­tion that makes up the bulk of ma­te­rial for the se­ries, Viceland’s first scripted com­edy. Co-cre­ated by Der­mer and Van Der Beek, the se­ries (with Di­plo as ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer) tweaks the per­sona of the pop star in a way that com­bines the play­ful satire of This Is Spinal Tap with a show busi­ness ver­sion of The Of­fice.

The re­sult is some­thing of a work­place com­edy re­volv­ing around a pop star’s misad­ven­tures and the at­tempts to man­age those mis­takes by his team, which in­cludes comic Bobby Lee, Groundlings vet­eran H. Michael Croner, DJ and fes­ti­val fix­ture Dil­lon Fran­cis and Dora Madi­son of Fri­day Night Lights, who ap­pears as one of Di­plo’s as­sis­tants and the only per­son an­chored in the real world.

Be­tween takes at a buzzing Sun­set Gower Stu­dios, Van Der Beek ex­cit­edly re­called how the show cap­tured its con­cert footage, which in­cluded his strik­ing Di­plo’s wide-armed ‘‘Je­sus pose’’ in front of a ca­pac­ity crowd while the real Di­plo per­formed be­hind him.

Der­mer later re­called Di­plo coach­ing Van Der Beek be­fore an­other live shoot at the Mad De­cent Block Party con­cert in LA last Oc­to­ber, show­ing him which but­tons to press while on­stage and when to crowd surf to find the most be­liev­able per­for­mance.

‘‘[Wes] is al­ler­gic to tak­ing him­self too se­ri­ously,’’ Van Der Beek says of the DJ. He added that, if any­thing, the writ­ers had to rein in Pentz’s ideas for how he was por­trayed.

‘‘Be­ing in the pub­lic eye, ev­ery­one wants to spec­u­late on who you are, what you do in your per­sonal time, pass judg­ments on how you live your life,’’ says Pentz, who was reached via email while tour­ing over­seas. ‘‘I’d rather em­brace the spec­u­la­tion, turn it into a joke and have fun with it.’’

Van Der Beek is no stranger to the meta-com­edy game, hav­ing played an out­sized, ar­ro­gant ver­sion of him­self on ABC’s Don’t Trust the B in Apt. 23 from 2012 to 2013. He cred­its that se­ries’ ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer, Nah­natchka Khan, for pre­par­ing him to be showrun­ner for this se­ries.

‘‘In terms of mak­ing a sus­tain­able fully fledged char­ac­ter, blind spots are the gold that you’re look­ing for,’’ he says. ‘‘The fun thing about play­ing some­body meta is you can give them a su­per­power. So in the case of Di­plo it’s this mu­si­cal ge­nius that 99.9 per cent of peo­ple strug­gle with or don’t have.’’

Re­call­ing his ex­pe­ri­ence on Apt. 23, Van Der Beek says he told that show’s writ­ers, ‘‘Don’t ever be afraid of of­fend­ing me. You have to go for what’s fun­ni­est, and if there’s any­thing that hits too close to the mark or I’m afraid is go­ing to be bad for my kids then I’ll let you know pri­vately. And that’s pretty much what Wes said to me when I sat down with him the first time to ex­plore the idea of turn­ing this into a se­ries. That’s kind of the only an­swer that would make it worth do­ing.’’

The idea for the se­ries be­gan with Der­mer, who with the help of Di­plo and his man­ager, Kevin Kusatsu, cre­ated a video promo for the Mad De­cent Block Party tour last year that fea­tured Van Der Beek as Di­plo. In ad­di­tion to his bro-ready ‘‘What’s up, fam?’’ greet­ing, the clip in­cludes a harp­play­ing as­sis­tant, cash rain­ing from the ceil­ing, nin­jas and other goofily over-the-top slices of life for a dance mu­sic su­per­star. Or so it would ap­pear.

‘‘I’ve al­ways been ap­proached to kind of break EDM in Hol­ly­wood,’’ says Der­mer, who got his start mak­ing mu­sic videos.

‘‘So I kind of took both the Hol­ly­wood in­ter­pre­ta­tion and the pub­lic in­ter­pre­ta­tion of what th­ese guys are like, and I’m like: ‘I’m go­ing to make that’.’’

Though the world-con­quer­ing deca­dence of dance mu­sic pro­vides plenty of ma­te­rial for par­ody, much of the show’s com­edy comes from more per­sonal mo­ments. In ad­di­tion to some mis­taken-iden­tity hi­jinks, the first episode in­cludes fall­out from a so­cial me­dia beef be­tween Di­plo and his fel­low hit-maker Calvin Har­ris. While the tweets are taken word-for-word from Di­plo’s ac­count in an­other on­line beef, the in­ci­dent with Har­ris was fic­tional. – Los An­ge­les Times

What Would Di­plo Do? 7.30pm, Mon­days, Viceland.

What Would Di­plo Do? is a work­place com­edy re­volv­ing around a pop star’s misad­ven­tures and the at­tempts to man­age those mis­takes by his team.

For­mer Daw­son’s Creek heart­throb James Van Der Beek stars in What Would Di­plo Do?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.