What happens when a deeply insecure yet narcissistic man becomes famous? That’s the main question that Dave is asking at this point. For two seasons, we’ve followed a fictionalized version of rapper Dave Burd, a.k.a. Lil Dicky, on his rise from meme to honest-to-God touring musician with a studio album. In that time, Dave went through a long creative drought, moved back in with his parents, and repeatedly alienated almost every important person in his life: his (now ex-)girlfriend Ally, hype man GaTa, roommate and manager Mike, childhood friend and producer Elz, and old co-worker and graphic designer Emma.
Dave has officially made it now — whether it’s due to charisma and genuine skill or a lot of luck and white privilege (hint: it’s both, especially the latter). With his debut album, Penith, charting, the dreams that seemed so out of reach only a couple of years ago are coming true on the regular. Is it possible we’re due for a season of a happy, stable Dave Burd? One who simply enjoys the many privileges he’s been afforded, never taking this blessed life for granted?
The answer is no, of course, because this is Dave we’re watching. That’s not to say that the first two episodes of the third season completely undo the incremental progress our unlikely (and often relentlessly annoying) hero has made so far. There are indications that, in some ways, this Dave is more mature than at his nadir in season two. But the narcissist almost always comes out when given the opportunity, and Dave is still a victim to the same fears that have always ailed him. Fame doesn’t automatically (or even usually) lead to true confidence. Old insecurities don’t disappear just because everyone knows who you are now.
We can see that in the season opener, “Texas,” which quickly establishes the basic dynamics on the tour bus for Dave and GaTa’s Looking for Love Tour. Dave has managed to mend fences with most of the friends he’d risked losing: He’s on more equal footing with GaTa (even if Dave still has far more name recognition), and Mike is still keeping everything running as smoothly as possible. Elz and Emma are along for the ride, too, with the former on hand as DJ and sound engineer and the latter filming a documentary of the tour. Of the main crew, only Ally is missing.
Neither of these first two episodes really delves into the supporting cast in a meaningful way, and it’s hard not to crave more of the ensemble after almost an hour focused solely on Dave. But I’m sure they’ll get their time to shine. This show really is mostly about the eponymous character himself, for better or worse, and I expected the season to start off Dave-heavy.
Much of “Texas” proceeds as you might expect from the title — with the classic fish-out-of-water comedy of following a neurotic Jewish guy from the Northeast as he dips his toe into southern culture. There are unfriendly gun-toting gas-station clerks. There are countless white fans who erupt into cheers whenever they hear the phrase “white-boy summer.” When another gun-toting local calls Dave a gay man, his drawl makes it sound like “Gaiman.”
This is not everyone’s experience of Texas, of course. Luvh Rakhe and Randall Valdez-Castillo’s script isn’t always keen on subverting the setting so much as using it for a self-contained horror-story backdrop. But the personality of the state, and the mythology it carries, are critical, and Burd knows he has no room to condescend. (Dave himself is a different story. His mention of the opioid crisis would be cringey even if Texas were a part of the Appalachian region he’s referencing.)
Of course, the biggest regional fantasy Dave falls for goes by the name of Campbell, the pretty blonde nurse who immediately wins Dave over with her down-to-earth southern charm. (“You’re like out of a fable,” he marvels after learning about the many goats she owns.) Campbell’s friends are big Lil Dicky fans, but she personally doesn’t know much about him, which makes her the ideal fantasy for Dave, whose desperate search for love hasn’t turned up anything but thirsty fans who only want to fuck Lil Dicky. As much as Dave wants to let loose and have fun on tour, shaking off the angst of the last year, at the end of the day he just wants someone with whom he can feel comfortable sharing his most intimate desires.
Campbell seems like she could be that person — at least for the duration of precisely one conversation. But after she falls asleep in the middle of her friend’s “party,” the truth comes out: She only pretended not to know Lil Dicky, because she knew from watching his interviews that he’d be into that. It’s a surprisingly sad reveal. It was clear this whole episode that Dave was headed for an L, but unlike his usual self-created problems, this one was out of his control. It only gets worse when Campbell’s friends interrupt his frustrated monologue about preconceived notions to demand he shows them his manatee-shaped dick. That familiar tense Dave score kicks in, and eventually, all of Dave’s clothes are ripped off except the latest of Dave’s collection of sex grotesqueries: the Scroguard, a diaper-esque condom addition meant to reduce the risk of STIs.
After a dark chase through the fan-infested roads of small-town Texas, Dave arrives at a still-open massage parlor, where he secures a ride from Mike and the most low-effort, unconventional hand job ever (simply straightening the bend of his abnormal penis) from the kind masseuse who doesn’t speak English and likely has no idea who Lil Dicky is. The episode ends on this rare, strange moment of ecstasy. It’s not the context Dave hoped for — he’d rather have his soulmate do this — but it’ll do in a pinch.
Compared to “Texas,” the following episode is much more abrasive on a scene-by-scene basis with a heavy dose of Dave at his most insufferable. In fact, “Harrison Ave” is probably the show’s tensest installment since season two began with a nightmarish day in South Korea. This one is centered on the filming of a new music video about Dave’s teenage “romantic origin story,” and for pretty much its whole run time, it’s in Birdman mode, tracking Dave with long shots and frantic percussion as he juggles variously aged child actors and a very tight window for shooting at Macaroni Grill.
The love story of Dave Burd and Brittany Parker (played by the always-great Jane Levy) is a tale as old as time. He had a crush on her in eighth grade and “settled” for becoming her best friend but frequently found himself as the shoulder for her to cry on when her older boyfriends cheated on or otherwise mistreated her. When one boyfriend couldn’t go to the homecoming dance, Brittany suggested she and Dave go together — but then her boyfriend surprised her there after all, and Dave became a 33rd wheel, dancing on the table at Macaroni Grill as part of a mandated birthday ritual, even though it wasn’t his birthday. They later went on to date for a month, but that time feels like a blip compared to the length of his infatuation.
With this music video, Dave is hoping to retell the story in painstaking detail: filming at his parents’ home during the Philadelphia stop of the tour and using real props including old letters between the two. He’s hoping to court more of a female audience, a relative blind spot in his base — but as Dave explicitly tells Brittany later, it’s a period that profoundly impacted him. As cynical as his aims are, there’s something genuine (albeit deeply flawed) about his desire to put his feelings out there and tell his story through art.
Dave didn’t plan on actually making an effort to see his old friend while he was home. But when she drops by and requests a cameo in the video, he’s happy to use her to justify his own adult presence in the narrative. Of course, he really doesn’t have any interest in showing her perspective of the story even when Emma suggests that including it would work well for the video. While shooting the final scene — and following multiple disasters including a video-assist operator who has to leave the newly painted house for fear of relapsing on huffing lacquer — Brittany storms out, refusing to play the villain Dave still imagines her to be almost 20 years later.
During a final argument between the two, all of Dave’s ugliest qualities are laid bare. Over the course of this day, Brittany has made numerous attempts to spend time with the old friend she loved. But at every point, Dave is less interested in catching up than in making it clear to Brittany that she doesn’t have control over his feelings anymore. He’s famous and successful now, and she no longer plays an outsize role in his life — unlike back when she only “gave him” a month of dating. (Never mind that Brittany had her own family problems and serious mental-health issues she was dealing with at the time.) Except, of course, Dave does still have unresolved feelings about this. Isn’t it funny how you can feel so vulnerable about your teenage years so long after — how desperately you crave external validation from the people you grew up with, even if you’re supposed to be happy with the strides you’ve made?
Dave often uses its protagonist to unpack the nuances of modern masculinity, and Dave is a pretty believable avatar for this familiar brand of “nice guy” entitlement: the type of incel-ish resentment that can curdle into lifelong ideas about what the women in your life owe you. (It makes me think of this meme.) In fact, while we’ve never heard about Brittany before (as far as I can remember), in retrospect, it feels like we’ve seen the effects of their love story crop up before — especially in last season’s “Somebody Date Me,” when Dave’s entitlement led him to sabotage his chances with Doja Cat by lashing out when she didn’t respond quickly enough for him. That story gets referenced again here, twisted into another braggy anecdote that makes Dave look better and more sympathetic than he really is (just like the music video itself, in a way).
The episode ends on an interesting note. Dave relinquishes control to Emma, who has a creative way to close out the video with limited talent and space. He tells her that he really does trust her — a sign that maybe he hasn’t backslid to the point of sabotaging all of his friendships at once again, but you get the feeling that so many of these conflicts could’ve been avoided if he’d just listened to her from the beginning.
Ironically, though, it turns out the final point of Dave’s romantic origin story is that his friendship with Brittany taught him he was worthy of love — a message devastatingly undercut by Brittany telling Dave shortly before, “I really loved you, and it doesn’t seem to matter to you at all.” It’s a complicated conclusion — would Brittany be pleasantly surprised with the finished product given the ultimately wistful tone? More likely, any sweetness of this ending message is dulled by the frustration of watching Dave get so close to the point while still missing it. Part of watching Dave is hoping he’ll get there one day.
• “What’s your availability as far as being hit on right now?” is an admittedly pretty good line.
• “I changed my underwear, because I met a girl and I was talking to her and I soaked my first underwear with pre-come.” Did Dave think this was going to make him sound more normal than just explaining the Scroguard?
• “I’ve had to pee in the past, and you never know when it’s coming. Get all the piss out.”
• In his harsh assessment of the kid playing his eighth-grade self, Dave says, “You’re making a super-lowbrow face when you’re grabbing her breast. Opposite energy.”
• Dave mistakes the “he/him” on a kid’s name tag for his name, calling him “Helhim.”
• Besides the beautiful absurdity of Dave’s mom accidentally eating her hearing aids (plural), I love the picture his parents paint of how it went down. It’s funnier that we imagine it from the aftermath instead of actually seeing it happen.
• That ridiculous pool of fake “piss and come” spurting from Dave’s pant leg is horrifying to watch — especially with the relative silence on set at that moment and the untimely entrance of his mom.