A bloated ego is so much fun

‘What Would Di­plo Do?’ ex­pertly mocks the DJ and his EDM su­per­star trap­pings.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - LOR­RAINE ALI TELE­VI­SION CRITIC

What’s more ob­nox­ious than a su­per­star DJ with an out­sized ego and a con­fetti can­non?

A tele­vi­sion se­ries about a su­per­star DJ with an out­sized ego and a con­fetti can­non.

Vice­land’s new scripted com­edy “What Would Di­plo Do?” is a trea­sure trove of elec­tronic dance mu­sic clichés, right down to the MDMA jokes, in­ter­mit­tent air horns and Mad De­cent gear.

But what saves this halfhour se­ries from be­ing just as an­noy­ing as the scene it de­picts is a painfully funny self-aware­ness. Think of it as the “Veep” of DJ cul­ture, or maybe the “This Is Spinal Tap” of EDM.

“What Would Di­plo Do?” which pre­mieres Thursday, fol­lows celebrity DJ, pro­ducer and Ma­jor Lazer star

as he plays fes­ti­vals across the globe and lives up to his rep­u­ta­tion as one of the genre’s most self-ag­gran­diz­ing, if not im­petu­ous, personalities.

De­pend­ing on the episode, you may find him med­i­tat­ing be­fore his sold-out sets (a rit­ual that, of course, in­cludes tak­ing a shirt­less selfie), strik­ing Christ­like poses on stage or con­coct­ing bla­tant pop hits in the stu­dio as he com­plains that all his peers have sold out.

The fist-bump­ing, self­im­por­tant Di­plo of this se­ries, how­ever, is not played by the man him­self. He’s por­trayed by ac­tor James Van Der Beek (“Daw­son’s Creek”), which likely ex­plains why the fic­tional Di­plo is so adept at mak­ing fun of him­self.

Van Der Beek em­braces all that is good and bad about Di­plo — the cre­ative mu­si­cal turns, the point­less Twit­ter feuds, the cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion (he’s a South­ern white guy who’s made a ca­reer slic­ing and dic­ing Caribbean, South Amer­i­can and other brown/black styles into va­pid party mu­sic for the Coachella crowd).

Van Der Beek stum­bles through it all with a hi­lar­i­ous ar­ro­gance but also a love for the mu­sic it­self.

He de­mands his over­worked as­sis­tant, Karen (Dora Madison, “Friday Night Lights”), find a con­fetti can­non be­fore his show at a sports venue in the Do- mini­can Repub­lic be­cause, he says, “I need it. Other­wise I'm just a ran­dom white dude up there press­ing but­tons."

And when he runs into his neme­sis, the other high­gross­ing DJ Calvin Har­ris (also a real-life EDM lu­mi­nary played by an ac­tor, Tom Stour­ton), they un­com­fort­ably ad­dress their so­cial me­dia war face to face.

“What’s lamer than a DJ war?” Di­plo asks rhetor­i­cally, try­ing to make light of their bit­ter ri­valry, which of course no one but them cares about.

“A moped race” of­fers one.

“Peo­ple who dress up like the Crow,” says an­other. “The VMAs.” The joke wrapped in­side of the in­side jokes here is that as cocky as th­ese DJs can be, they’re still rel­a­tively anony­mous given that they per­form shows be­hind a mix­ing deck and it’s of­ten their ac­com­pa­ny­ing laser show, or the dance ex­pe­ri­ence of the au­di­ence, that is the star of the show.

To prove the point, Van Der Beek filmed at least one scene at an ac­tual Di­plo per­for­mance, crowd-surf­ing and giv­ing high-fives to an ador­ing au­di­ence who ap­peared to have no idea he was an im­pos­tor.

The writ­ing isn’t phe­nom­e­nal or pol­ished, nor is the comedic tim­ing. But Van Der Beek does an ex­cel­lent job of min­ing Di­plo’s con­tra­dic­tions and blind spots for ma­te­rial (and there’s lots of ma­te­rial to work with), then charm­ing viewers with his char­ac­ter’s clue­less­ness when the in­sipid be­hav­ior bor­ders on in­tol­er­a­ble.

So what does the real Di­plo (aka Thomas Wesley Pentz, but that didn't look as good on a fes­ti­val mar­quee) think of “What Would Di­plo Do?”

Well, he is an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer on the show, an in­di­ca­tion that maybe the big­name DJ is not as obliv­i­ous to his short­com­ings as the se­ries might im­ply.

Ei­ther way, this Vice­land show aimed at mil­len­ni­als hits ex­actly the right bal­ance. It pos­sess the re­quired hip fac­tor and bro-cul­ture lean­ings needed for all things at­tached to the Vice brand, but tem­pers the usual snark and swagger with self-dep­re­ca­tion and charm.

Vice­land

JAMES VAN DER BEEK stars in “What Would Di­plo Do?” on Vice­land.

Joe Scarnici Getty Im­ages for Vice­land

JAMES VAN DER BEEK, cen­ter, at­tends Comic-Con in San Diego last month.

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