Let’s assume Jamie Foxx didn’t go to the trouble of creating the entire new Showtime series “White Famous” so he could give himself an amusingly graphic sex scene in the opening episode.
He did do that. But the longer arc of “White Famous,” which premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. ET, addresses the broader, more familiar yet famously unresolved matter of selling out.
Specifically in this case, young comedian Floyd Mooney (Jay Pharoah) wrestles with whether to semi-abandon his modestly successful career telling jokes to black audiences and pursue a film career in which he might achieve major fame and fortune by appealing to mainstream audiences.
While Foxx has said he based the show largely on his own experiences and he plays a prominent role in the pivotal first episode, the “White Famous” dialogue more often references Eddie Murphy as the prime example of going mainstream.
Floyd’s agent Malcolm (Utkarsh Ambudkar), and others, urge him to follow that path, arguing that being “white famous” earns you a whole lot more of the good things in life.
The whole idea still bothers Floyd and he expresses his discomfort to anyone who will listen, including people Malcolm has told him it’s vital to impress.
Floyd has few if any filters, which is a good trait in a show that’s looking to make us laugh. He also lives in an unfiltered world, as the Foxx sex scene illustrates.
Floyd doesn’t throw around the term “selling out,” but in the broader sense that’s clearly his fear, the same way musicians get nervous that they will lose their original artistic vision if they alter their music so it will have wider appeal.
Floyd’s determination to remain true to his art might carry the day in this case, except that he still desperately craves his ex-wife Sadie (Cleopatra Coleman) and he wants to provide a good life for their son Trevor (Lonnie Chavis).
Sadie, a backup vocalist, thinks he should make a full run at white fame, because the whole world should get to see his skills, not just his core fans at small fringe comedy clubs.
The money would enable them to do things like send Trevor to a private school, which also makes Floyd nervous, but undeniably dangles the promise of a better education.
Caught between principle and practicality, Floyd turns to his BFF Ron Balls (Jacob Ming-Trent), whose life is a mess but who seems to be pretty good at assessing Floyd’s life.
The subtly named “Balls” provides Floyd with a fine comic partner, and their conversation and banter ensures that “White Famous” will be delivering funny people and situations, not just setup jokes.
Their interplay becomes especially critical because the white folks in “White Famous” all fall into a range somewhere between tone-deaf and demented.
They’re Hollywood players, which may explain why Foxx doesn’t mind tweaking them.
Stephen Tobolowsky plays Stu Beggs, the kind of major studio exec who can get projects greenlit at the snap of his fingers. A purely accidental and hilarious verbal encounter between Stu and Floyd jump-starts the whole white famous drama.
Michael Rapaport plays Teddy Snow, a producer who is completely and seriously deranged. While Floyd learns to work with Teddy, he sleeps with one eye open.
Mercifully, characters like Stu and Teddy don’t turn “White Famous” into a parade of caricatures. Floyd, Balls, Sadie and Trevor form a nuclear family to which almost anyone can relate. Even if no one has ever offered us a nickel to sell out.