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TV review: Showtime's 'White Famous' flawed but well worth the watch

October 13, 2017 Updated: October 14, 2017 at 9:09 am
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Cleopatra Coleman as Sadie and Jay Pharoah as Floyd in WHITE FAMOUS (Season 1, Episode 1). - Photo: Michael Desmond/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: WhiteFamous_101_13875.r

Cast: Jay Pharoah ("Saturday Night Live," "Ride Along"), Utkarsh Ambudkar ("The Mindy Project,"), Cleopatra Coleman ("Last Man on Earth"), Jacob Ming-Trent ("Feed the Beast"), Stephen Tobolowsky ("Californication," "The Goldbergs"), Lonnie Chavis ("This is Us")

Airs: The season premiere airs at 8 p.m. Sunday on Showtime.

The premise: Floyd Mooney (Jay Pharoah) is a star on the rise. The young comedian is having success in small clubs and getting attention from some Hollywood power players. But Floyd's not sure he wants to become "white famous," so popular that - like Will Smith and Eddie Murphy - he's beloved by white America. "White Famous" is a collaboration between writer and showrunner Tom Kapinos ("Californication") and Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx. The series is loosely based on Foxx's experiences as a young actor/comedian.

Highs: Floyd Mooney is an aberration. He's a stand-up comic who doesn't want to be an actor. He's an entertainer who likes to make people laugh but doesn't seek fame and fortune. Floyd doesn't really fit the Hollywood mold, and that's how he likes it. Everyone wants Floyd Mooney to make it big except Floyd Mooney. That's probably because, as we see through Floyd's eyes, success in Hollywood makes people crazy.

In one episode, Jamie Foxx, playing himself, sits down with the up-and-comer while wearing a cheerleader skirt and insists that Floyd wear a dress for a role. In another episode, a hard-core method director (guest star Michael Rapaport) has Floyd arrested on Sunset Boulevard as part of the audition for his movie. People in the entertainment industry seem to lose their sense of reality, and Floyd would prefer not to do that because he has something grounding him.

An on-again-off-again girlfriend (Cleopatra Coleman) and a son (the adorable Lonnie Chavis) give Floyd emotional stability in this strange environment. Yet they're also the impetus for him becoming famous, so he pushes himself out of his comfort zone. Floyd can't pay for his son to go to a private school or prove to his ex-girlfriend that he's dependable when he passes up career opportunities.

Making things even more confusing are Floyd's agent, Malcolm (Utkarsh Ambudkar), and his best friend, Ron (Jacob Ming-Trent). These two characters are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Malcolm, ambitious and fast talking, openly lusts for Floyd's girlfriend and trades racial insults with him. Ron is Floyd's intelligent, thoughtful conscience, who helps set him on the right path. When these three are in the same room, it's like watching the id, ego and superego argue with each other, which is hilarious.

Lows: "White Famous" feels like a mix of "Californication" and "Entourage." While those two programs worked great individually, they don't blend well, which leaves "White Famous" feeling a bit off balance.

Floyd's agent and his best friend channel "Entourage." Funny, free-flowing and frequently at odds, this trio provides most of the show's humor and is its strength. Floyd's ex-girlfriend provides the "Californication" vibe. It's clear these two don't belong together; they don't fit. Watching a man yearn for a lost, idealized love proves to be burdensome for Floyd and can distract from the fun of the series.

Grade: (B): The weight of "White Famous" sits squarely on Jay Pharaoh's shoulders, which means this series should do quite well. Pharaoh was an underrated and underutilized player on "Saturday Night Live," and he finally gets to shine here. With great comedic timing, strong acting chops and charisma to spare, Pharaoh elevates "White Famous," making it a series well worth your time.

Gazette media columnist Terry Terrones is a member of the Television Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @terryterrones.

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