“Get your black fist and your afro picks ready because it’s time for Sherman’s Showcase!”
Television has gotten to a place where programming is so daring and ambitious that it’s willing to take risks and meta statements on the medium.
There are a number of high concept series that are currently on TV that wouldn’t have even made sense decades ago. IFC has delivered a number of comedies that are all predicated on false realities, like Documentary Now! or The Spoils of Babylon. Now Sherman’s Showcase finds its confidence in the fact that it’s supposed to have a storied Soul Train-esque reputation to fall back on while the show has fun with its alternate take on a variety show. As much as Sherman’s Showcase prides itself on its heavy concept, at the end of the day it’s still just an alternative sketch show with a retro aesthetic and in that department, the series is a lot of fun and a fresh take on the format.
The humor and references in Sherman’s Showcase may live in the ’70s, but the show’s timing and pacing adopts a very modern sensibility. Rather than watch entire episodes of the old fictitious Sherman’s Showcase, the show’s format is instead divided into short infomercials for the variety show’s expansive 23-DVD set (in a joke that feels similar to the world-building of how Documentary Now! is in its 52ndseason). This structure does the show wonders because it can get out before the trappings of the past start to get stale.
The series functions with the same level of sharpness and precision as any other variety or sketch show, but there are several other levels of artifice in play here where parody is stacked on top of parody. In addition to the lightning-paced comedy, there’s also a bit of a serialized storyline of Sherman’s struggles that impressively unfolds over the eight-episode season. The series gets a lot of mileage out of how it has “hundreds” of episodes to pull from to build themes for these infomercials, as well as depict how both the show and Sherman have changed over the years.
Sherman’s Showcase wields a very eclectic brand of comedy due to how it seamlessly mixes reality with make believe. The type of sketches and content that play out include things like fake ads for real products of the ’70s and real famous faces do ridiculous performance, but then they’re cleverly mixed in with commercials for fake products that could be real and performers who are complete fabrications. The looser that Sherman’s Showcase keeps its rules, the better. It just wants to move onto the next crazy bit.
With a show of the nature that’s an ode to the past, it runs the risk of going right over its audience’s heads. You don’t need to be a junkie of Solid Gold to get the jokes in Sherman’s Showcase, but it certainly won’t hurt. If anything, this show opens up that decade to a new audience and allows them to explore the absurdity and magic of it in a new way. In the end, it’s not just a funny lampoon of ’70s variety and sketch shows, it isa funny sketch show.
Sherman’s Showcase is a heady concept, but the show works because it’s so respectful and detailed with the form that it lampoons and how it’s able to mine even more comedy from out of the exaggerated format that it loves so much. Performances, production design, and ads are all immaculately done. As much as it’s laughing at this bygone era and the shows that populated it, there’s a clear joy to be producing this kind of material. To add to that, the show’s creators, Diallo Riddle and Bashir Salahuddin (who also plays the titular Sherman McDaniels), often appear in sketches to also get in on the fun.
On that note, another major selling point here is the performers that Sherman’s Showcase brings together. Veterans of both the comedy and music industries lend their talents to the show (John Legend hosts the premiere) and it’s genuinely a lot of fun to see these people give into the shtick and have fun with it. The entire cast gives sensational performances and Tiffany Haddish, Lil Rel Howery, and Mike Judge are just a taste of the guest stars that crash in. Even though this show parodies vehicles like Soul Train, it also beautifully becomes those shows by how it still manages to feature the talent of the decade in the same way that the original series would.
Sherman’s Showcase isn’t perfect, but it’s crazy and fearless, which is perhaps better. Even if you’re not a fan of the bombastic variety shows that are the subject of mockery here, this still might win you over due to its creative spin on the genre. There’s another show on right now called What Just Happened??! With Fred Savage, that while different enough, very much operates in the same playground as Sherman’s Showcase and is a glorious, albeit ambitious, disaster. Sherman’s Showcase is how to do this idea right and make this kind of thing feel natural. There’s an obvious amount of love in the program and it generates a contagious energy that’s hard to deny. This may not last long on IFC or necessarily be mandatory viewing, but it’s a fun source for comedy that boasts an impressive arsenal of guest stars. There are definitely worse things than just wanting to have fun and live in the past.
Sherman’s Showcase currently airs Wednesday at 10pm ET on IFC
This review is based on all eight episodes of Sherman’s Showcase.
Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, Bloody Disgusting, and ScreenRant. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem, that Psycho II is better than the original, and he’s always game to discuss Space Dandy. His perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.
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