Last week’s episode of Dave ended at a potential point of no return: Dave chose to drum up publicity for Lil Dicky by letting the world believe he was dead for a few days. Here’s a guy who used to pride himself on authenticity and letting his art speak for itself now resorting to cheap stunts executed with full awareness of their ethical murkiness. It was framed as a crossing of the moral event horizon, a choice that could endanger his relationships even if it doesn’t lead to a scandal that could jeopardize his whole career.
But if Dave is going to face consequences for his “death scam,” it won’t be this week. Compared to most episodes in this series, “Rebirthday” is a chill watch, a reset that puts Dave in a better place than ever: wealthy, productive, and surrounded by people who love him. He’s even able to start a new relationship with someone who seems to want the same things as him.
Of course, the bigger Dave gets, the harder he’ll fall. There is a natural sense that this phase of personal and professional fulfillment is temporary, which leaves this episode feeling a little weightless, a little transitional. Still, seeing the show just having fun for a while can be nice. So far, this season has done a great job juggling the ensemble sitcom feel of season one with the weirder, more ambitious impulses of an at-times excessively dark season two. The greater Dave’s range of tones, the better it lands, both comedically and dramatically.
The death scam does hang over this episode, but the focus, first and foremost, is Robyn, who is in L.A. for two weeks to visit her sort-of-but-not-really-long-distance boyfriend. Their first day together is realistically awkward, with the two of them immediately agreeing to “escape their bodies at the same time” with wine (for Robyn) and weed (for Dave). But on their walk to the wine store, Dave gets too high, and his new guest has to help him home. He sleeps the rest of the day and night away, leaving Robyn on her own.
What Dave didn’t mention to Robyn until today is that his birthday also happens to be this week. He claims he didn’t mention it because he hates all the attention; after all, isn’t that why he wanted to end the tour in the first place? But we know what Ally knows and what Robyn hasn’t quite figured out yet: As much as scrutiny might set off Dave’s anxiety, he will always crave the spotlight. Ally alludes to that when she stops by to return his tennis racquet and ends up asking Robyn for her help. They need someone to get Dave to his surprise party on the beach tomorrow evening.
It doesn’t sound difficult in theory. But it’s actually a big ask for someone who has technically only met Dave once, especially since he doesn’t even like the beach that much. The smartest choice that Jeanie Bergen’s script makes is telling most of this story from Robyn’s point of view, letting us see her thought process in a way we didn’t back in “Wisconsin.” We spend time with her as she marvels at the various amenities of Dave’s huge new house; chats on the phone with her mom about meeting Ally; and, finally, tackles the stressful task at hand: forcing Dave to go to the beach.
The first obstacle: Dave can’t ride a bike, an insecurity that ostracized him from his friends growing up. It’s not that he doesn’t know how; he can get by if absolutely necessary. It’s more that he occupies some “middle ground.” I don’t know how much of this is drawn from real life, but Burd nails the physical comedy of the scene, instantly conveying how badly his tentativeness handicaps his biking ability, especially when it’s time to turn. When he jerkily steers around a homeless man blocking the sidewalk, he falls over and hurts his knee — obstacle two.
Desperate, Robyn scrambles for ways to convince Dave not to go home, but in the end, she has to tell him the truth about the party. That confession, in turn, allows Dave to come clean about what’s been eating him up inside: the death scam. But Robyn takes the news surprisingly well. After all, by faking her own personality and trying to look cool to Dave, she’s been lying in her own way. (Those lies are not the same, but Robyn is clearly a very forgiving person, which you need to be to put up with Dave.)
So the party goes off without a hitch, and Dave fakes surprise, and we end with good vibes. If there’s a reason to be concerned here, it’s the fact that this is all a bit much a bit too soon; after all, Dave is already introducing Robyn to his parents, and she’s already adopting elephants for him. The two of them still don’t really know each other that well.
If we’re talking about the show itself, my bigger issue is that I’m still not sure I really feel the chemistry there. Dave and Robyn are cute together, but there’s something about their energies that don’t mesh (unlike Dave and Ally or Elz and Emma). “Rebirthday” does a good job establishing Robyn’s personality independent of Dave, putting us in her headspace and making her a co-protagonist. But compared to more purposeful episodes like the last two or “Hearsay,” I’m still not quite seeing what this arc is bringing to the table. It’s fun enough, and I’m sure it’s heading somewhere dramatic. But at this point, I haven’t been sold on Robyn being interesting enough to, say, stick around for season four.
Oddly enough, this episode sold me much more quickly on another coupling: Mike and Ava (Inga Cadranel), Dave’s new publicist. Their chemistry during a business meeting feels real and intense, sustained with long silences and stares. And her invitation for him to come over and “annihilate” her leads to some prime Mike comedy, considering it will always be funny to see him try to appear threatening.
But Mike’s aborted attempt at role-playing actually leads to a healthy conversation about his and Ava’s kinks. By playing out a consensual non-consent fantasy, they can both get what they aren’t finding elsewhere in life. Ava is in control all the time at work, so she likes to relinquish it in the bedroom; Mike feels out of control between managing a man-child and coping with his emotionally abusive dad’s illness, so now he gets to take some back. Who cares if the dirty talk is cringey when they get all they need from the power dynamic?
I don’t know how prominently Ava will feature in the final three episodes or if she could return in future years. But despite just showing up now, there’s already something both funny and oddly natural about her and Mike. Really, their moment of honest dialogue isn’t much different from Dave and Robyn’s own truth-spilling conversation. But it feels more real: more complicated and less final-scene-of-a-sitcom-episode. Dave claims that “from here on out, honesty” at the start of “Rebirthday,” but it smells like bullshit as soon as he says it. The most vulnerable and human moment of the episode has nothing to do with him.
• GaTa apparently hasn’t masturbated in 20 years.
• Ally puts her name in Robyn’s phone as “Mike Triangle.”
• Dave’s romantic plan for the day was creating a winter wonderland in his own backyard because Robyn loves snow days. It’s another nice way of indicating how well he’s doing financially: He has to call off a whole team of guys who are ready to go with an expensive snow machine.
• Curious to see how Mike wrestles with his complicated dad issues in the coming weeks. Here, we see him ignoring a text from the nurse asking if he’ll be visiting, so the obvious direction for this to go would be his dad dying.
• When Mike arrives, Ava is on the phone for work: “I don’t get these people. Every time Jon Hamm’s dick print bulges in his pants when he’s walking around Brooklyn is not a story. He wears khakis; he walks around a lot.”
• To see Mike Santino play a similar but more genuinely threatening character, check out Beef.
• Benny Blanco arguing with Dave’s mom is priceless. “I didn’t expect there to be a fucking dead seal. I’ve never even seen a real seal!”
• When Robyn mentions their beach plans, Dave points out, “Plans, like, change. Blockbuster had plans to not have the streaming era exist.”