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What Would Diplo Do? A mockumentary for the EDM generation

What Would Diplo Do?
Hang the DJ… James Van Der Beek in What Would Diplo Do?

‘You know you’re not Jesus, right?” barks Brian in What Would Diplo Do? (Wednesday, 9pm, Viceland). Brian is Diplo’s manager and he’s had it up to here with his crap, but Diplo isn’t bothered: “I mean, we won’t really know till I’m dead, right?”

A vision in all-day athleisure, Diplo, AKA Wes Pentz, is a superstar DJ who knows when to bring the drop, but has the life skills of a toddler. Fresh from anger management classes, he’s a man whose colossal ego is locked in an eternal battle with his paranoia and neediness. Written by and starring James Van Der Beek, best known for his round-the-clock snivelling in Dawson’s Creek, the series started out as a three-minute skit for the real-life Diplo to help shift concert tickets. A lightbulb moment arrived shortly after and, lo, a comedy series was born.

Van Der Beek’s Diplo is a pseudo-spiritual dimwit living the high life but prone to dark visions in which black-clad ninjas (read: internet haters) launch furtive attacks. One minute he’s being held aloft by adoring fans, the next he’s standing backstage trying to om his way out of an anxiety attack. Mobbed by phone-waving teens, he closes his eyes and transports himself to his happy place, his backyard at sunset, where he immediately starts pondering who would have had more Twitter followers: Jesus or Buddha.

Diplo travels with a cadre of employees including Jasper (Dillon Francis), a 24-carat bantz champ charged with running the boss’s “socials”, which means lobbing Twitter grenades at Diplo’s arch rival Calvin Harris; and Karen (Dora Madison), a PA who tolerates Diplo in the way that one might tolerate an incontinent puppy. There’s also Kröner, Diplo’s business manager who, in one of the few missteps here, is apparently funny because he’s German.

In the opening episode Diplo mistakes Karen’s 12-year-old micro-bro nephew for a Make-A-Wish kid who has months to live, and treats him to a day of VIP craziness. Meanwhile, his beef with Harris (“I don’t trust him. He’s too tall”) goes up a notch when, having snatched his phone from one of his underlings, Diplo tweets: “I f****ed you’re girl” [sic]. When Harris returns with a burn about the apostrophe, a fresh stream of ninjas arrive from nowhere and beat Diplo to a pulp.

One of the delights of the series lies in its merging of fiction and reality. That the real Diplo really did tweet Harris about shagging his girlfriend points both to his fundamental atrociousness and, as one of the executive producers, his readiness to look atrocious for the sake of entertainment. In the TV version, Harris and Diplo come face to face after a gig. After a tense start and a half-apology, things take a turn for the melancholy when Diplo asks: “Are we just posers pressing buttons?” “No” replies Harris, superciliously. “We’re shamanic healers offering glimpses of enlightenment through music.”

What Would Diplo Do? is somewhere between Spinal Tap and The Office after a massive all-nighter in Ibiza. Crucial to its success is Van Der Beek who captures the swagger and the bubbling madness that comes with wealth and celebrity, while somehow locating a thread of humanity. “[Diplo’s] the dumbest motherfucker that I know,” complains Brian, punching a sofa. True, but he’s also strangely mesmerising. As Diplo would say: this show is flames.

This article titled "What Would Diplo Do? A mockumentary for the EDM generation" was written by Fiona Sturges, for The Guardian on Saturday 21 October 2017 10.00am

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