IFC’s irreverently absurd Soul Train pastiche returns for a one-off special as inventive as it is occasionally overlong.
Sherman’s Showcase is back, and, as usual, Sherman McDaniels’ (Bashir Salahuddin) timing is off. Well, within the universe of the show, anyway.
In that world, Sherman’s Showcase, the show within the show, is celebrating Black History Month… in June. (Or as it’s billed at one point, “Summer.”) It seems Sherman has been a little loose about putting this whole thing together. In our world, however, Sherman’s Showcase Spectacular is returning during a very pointed time. Given the complexities of production, writing, filming, and editing, one could forgive if it seemed out of the step with the moment.
What’s impressive is how it evokes certain touchstones of the past month, seemingly by accident, without sacrificing the humor. For example, Sari Charley sings an ode to kente, praising it as “the Black people’s flannel.” There was no way to know kente would be due for any kind of media focus when the episode was made, and yet here it is. Moreover, by invoking it as a fabric/pattern used to literally give anything an “authentic” feel, it sends up some of the debate that followed Congresspeople kneeling in kente sashes last week (given to them by the Congressional Black Caucus, it should be noted).
The invoking of history and symbols for personal aggrandizement is also noted in Sherman’s Showcase Spectacular. John Legend (as himself) and Sherman go back and forth in an interview segment trading Black History stories and icons. However, it’s clear from the jump that neither actually has any idea of the context or importance of what they’re saying, just spouting off facts they gain from their Internet-enabled glasses. If you squint ever so slightly, it isn’t so hard to see the kind of corporate “we stand with our employees of color” vague social media pronouncement has been replete with as of late. All engagement, no understanding.
It meets the moment in its depiction of white men as instruments of state corruption as well. Tom Sandoval and Tom Schwartz (the so-called “Toms” of Vanderpump Rules) appear multiple times as white men disrupting Black progress, be it as police officers during the Harlem Renaissance or as “European” agents trying to steal African science for Western advancement. These jokes would still work prior if done back in March, for example, but today there’s an extra sting of recognition.
One shouldn’t go in expecting a full reflection and investigation of this moment, however. As usual, the focus of the humor remains firmly oriented on Sherman’s ego. While significantly less meta in this episode—all the action takes place in the show within the show, not the mockumentary that season 1 based its structure on—the show still treats us to multiple Sherman stumbles. His lack of preparedness for the John Legend interview, his obliviousness at how his producer almost died to save him, and his jealousy when a more charismatic figure arrives in the final segment are all solid bits.
Far and away the best gag, which doubles as a parody to the celebrity apology, is when Sherman acknowledges the show made a mistake when, years earlier, they had a reggaeton act sing a song encouraging child abuse. Without spoiling the joke, it ends up a monument to the kind of “I’m apologizing because I got caught, not because I actually changed my mind or regret it,” mea culpas we’ve seen for years.
As usual, the focus of the humor remains firmly oriented on Sherman’s ego.
The one thing that doesn’t work in this episode is its length. At double-sized a normal episode, the hit to miss ratio diminishes greatly. A roundtable with Black vampires is a great setup: but besides a monologue on how Sherman in vampire drag is Dracula but not Blacula, that’s all there is. In an average episode, it would have been a quick cutaway. Here, the sketches are given a little too much space and aren’t edited as tightly as usual. It’s also not a great introduction to the show for new viewers. While it’s immediately clear that it’s a parody of variety shows, a lot of the specificity won’t hit if it’s someone’s first episode.
On the other hand, there’s something great about a show that doesn’t dumb itself down for its audience. It’s confident enough in itself that it knows that even if you miss the joke about the “Toms” discussing opening a restaurant—which I did—something else in the scene will hook you. The confidence means even when a sketch goes flabby, the show as a whole remains quick and springy enough to nail the next beat.
Oh, and for the real fans? Don’t worry. Sherman’s Showcase Spectacular made sure to bring the robots back.