'The Vince Staples Show' is part art house, part 'Home Improvement'

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'The Vince Staples Show' is part art house, part 'Home Improvement'
Vince Staples in Los Angeles on Feb. 5, 2024. The hip-hop star’s wit has long shone in his critically acclaimed music and on social media and now, it is the center of his new Netflix sitcom. (Erik Carter/The New York Times)

by Brian Josephs

NEW YORK, NY.- Vince Staples is not someone you would describe as “excitable.” During a recent conversation about his new Netflix sitcom, “The Vince Staples Show,” his deliberate drawl remained steady throughout. But his clear pride in the series, out Thursday, broke through his placid exterior a few times, such as when he talked about the cameo by the high-living rapper Rick Ross or the show’s Swedish film influences. He also knows that the mere fact of its existence is exceptional.

“I don’t think there are many people who have been able to write and produce and star in their first television show, on a network that’s this big, that comes from where I come from,” Staples, 30, said in a video interview from his home in Los Angeles.

Staples said he had ambitions to make his own show since he released his debut album, “Summertime ’06,” in 2015. On that LP and the four that followed, Staples wove stories about his upbringing in Long Beach with a sardonic delivery — a perspective that proved to be his through line between multiple mediums. His interviews and social media posts, in which he casts off irreverent one-liners and blunt social critique, have generated enough material for greatest hits collections.

Staples made his acting debut in 2015 playing an inept sidekick in the comic coming-of-age film “Dope”; he has since starred in other movies, including the 2023 “White Men Can’t Jump” reboot, and in series like “Lazor Wulf,” an animated comedy on Adult Swim. He’s been able to incorporate some of his wit and other aspects of his personality in more recent roles, like the deadpan but well-meaning romantic interest he plays in “Abbott Elementary,” opposite the show’s creator Quinta Brunson.

“The Vince Staples Show,” which counts Staples and Kenya Barris (“black-ish”) among its executive producers, is a more idiosyncratic kind of sitcom. In the world of the series, in which Staples plays a fictionalized version of himself wiggling through day-in-the-life predicaments, a trip to the amusement park becomes a treacherous sojourn and gun-culture satire runs alongside physical comedy. It’s part art house, but Staples insists it’s also just him.

“I’m very detail-oriented,” Staples said. “So the things that I say sometimes might seem like I’m trying to make this grand statement, but it’s really just simple.”

In an interview, Staples discussed the lessons he learned from “Abbott Elementary,” his other sitcom influences and whether acting matters more to him than his music. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Q: Tonally and otherwise, “The Vince Staples Show” is reminiscent of other auteurist comedies like “Atlanta” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” What were some of your influences?

A: A lot of influences, the strongest one being the editing style of animation. There’s “King of the Hill.” “Pulp Fiction” with our shot selection. We don’t really have influences that people would assume. But having comparisons to such strong, proven things is an honor.

Q: Before your appearance on “Abbott Elementary,” you and Brunson co-starred in “Lazor Wulf.” Did she give you any advice about creating your own show?

A: She has a lot of information and is very thoughtful. Just sending her scripts and telling her about the show, she has given me a lot of advice, a lot of help on how to navigate the space and how to make sure that your vision is getting executed properly. It largely falls on you and your willingness to work and complete tasks. Anything I’ve ever asked for, she’s given me the response that I needed.

Q: You’ve been open about your lack of interest in many aspects of hip-hop culture, like its occasionally extreme competitiveness. Have you maintained that distance in TV?

A: I’m not the most competitive person. I find the creation of the thing is kind of what I appreciate the most, the work that goes into it. So I’m not there to measure myself up against other people. I’m just here to create what I can create, and I try to be the best that I can be at whatever I’m trying to execute. Everyone’s story matters and everyone’s work matters, to a certain extent. We’re all trying to just get our voices heard and tell our stories.

Q: The show employs distinctive cinematography. For example, in a bank robbery scene in the second episode there was a shot in which you were dead center, the robber is in the upper left and nervous customers on the bottom right. Were there some specific reference points you drew from?

A: We take a lot of inspiration in Roy Andersson, one of my favorite filmmakers. In his film “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence,” he has this shot in this restaurant or a cafeteria, where a lot of the people are separated by the pillars and just entering and exiting a frame. Things that are happening in the distance and things that are happening closer to camera, everything matters in the shot, especially when you stay within a wide. So I think operating within a wide sometimes allows you to bring subtle details and nuances to the shot, and the disposition of the people within the bank can speak to their relationships, speak to their experience.

Q: Was there an idea behind the Rick Ross appearance? You guys do seem to have different lifestyles outside of the show.

A: A lot of the time there are certain levels to success, and there are levels to class, and certain levels to the assumption of what goes behind being a creative or, you know, a Black male. We tackle a lot of those things. The thing about Rick Ross and Vince Staples being viewed in a somewhat similar light even though they’re drastically different, as you’ve just stated — to someone who would be working in a bank or who would be in charge of that kind of financial freedom that we’re both looking for, I think we’re in the same fishbowl.

Q: Is it fair to say that TV was more of an influence on you than hip-hop when you were growing up?

A: Yeah. I have older parents, older grandparents. We didn’t really have access to music and cable as much as other people did. So “The Andy Griffith Show,” “M*A*S*H,” “Married With Children,” “Home Improvement,” “The Simpsons,” “King of the Hill” — I saw those a lot more than I heard albums. I can’t even honestly remember hearing or even seeing a CD of my own until I got to probably eighth, ninth grade.

Q: What did you learn about TV from something like “Home Improvement”?

A: I don’t know how they would categorize it, but I think Tim Allen playing the straight man on that show but still being composed. Of course, Wilson is the straightest man because he doesn’t have a face damn near for the whole show. But I think that performance was really memorable, balancing family and work. The showcasing of the way that people are processing stress or family, that translated differently with “Home Improvement” than it did with “Married With Children.” That’s translated different in “That ’70s Show.” That’s translated different in “Fresh Prince” or “Martin.” Just seeing how people play their roles is important.

Q: Is Vince Staples the actor something you’d rather see long term than Vince Staples the rapper?

A: I’m just Vince Staples the person. So long as I’m breathing, I’ll continue to try different means and different things and find different ways of expression. But this is definitely something that I think is interesting. I study a lot, and I try to find my lane within all these things. It’s just the beginning of that.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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