A bloated ego is so much fun
‘What Would Diplo Do?’ expertly mocks the DJ and his EDM superstar trappings.
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.
JAMES VAN DER BEEK stars in “What Would Diplo Do?” on Viceland.
JAMES VAN DER BEEK, center, attends Comic-Con in San Diego last month.