Years from now, when we look at the very beginnings of the Golden Age of Television (aka the late ’90s. There was some great nonsense going on), I feel with the utmost certainty the loudest question asked will be, “Which dumbass tried to make James Van Der Beek a leading man?”
It’s not that he doesn’t have the looks to pull it off. Or even the talent (despite that infamous crying face, his work on Dawson’s Creek was … fine. Which is the most the material could elicit from even the best actors (don’t @ me. I loved that show. It just wasn’t very good)). It’s just that the Beek was so clearly built for something else. And that something else, specifically, is comedy focused on clueless yet entitled egomaniacs with underlying cripplingly self-doubt. Let’s go to the tape.
Exhibit 1) Don’t Trust the B—— in Apartment 23
If you’ve somehow made it through life without watching Don’t Trust the B——- in Apartment 23, I’m slightly suspicious of how you stumbled into the little corner of the internet that is known as “Pajiba.” It’s not that you’re at all unwelcome, it’s only that there are things in which Pajiba readers are interested, and things that are offered by Don’t Trust the B, and the Venn diagram of the two is a circle. Do you want Krysten Ritter being amazingly horrible and horribly amazing? And Dreama Walker being the perfect combination of annoying and awesome? Do you want Eric Andre not reduced to a Best Friend role? Or what about just seeing the actor James Van Der Beek play the actor James Van Der Beek — who maintains an A-lister’s ego and lifestyle despite being a bit of a has-been? And who happily throws on a Dawson flannel to bed twenty-somethings because he thinks that’s a boss, and not totally desperate, move? Or watch James and Chloe try to reenact their sex tape? Or an episode with a Zach Morris subplot? Oh my god, I just talked myself into a rewatch.
Anyway, this wasn’t the first time we saw Beek try to go weird in order to increase his street cred, it’s just the first time we saw him do it with such abandon and so delightfully.
Exhibit 2) Room 104
I’m not sure how I feel about Room 104 yet. It’s entertaining, but doesn’t seem to resolve anything in a satisfying way (through four of the the five episodes I’ve seen so far). I know exactly how I feel about Van Der Beek’s character in ‘Pizza Boy,’ and that feeling is awesome. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but suffice to say what Beek needed to put out was a guy who thought so highly of himself he could charm the pants off of anyone. Provided that anyone is also psychotic. And James really comes through for us. It works, guys. It just works.
Exhibit 3) What Would Diplo Do?
The only reason this entire post isn’t about What Would Diplo Do? is because I didn’t know how to say “there’s this show where an actor plays a real life DJ, who’s mostly a dumbass from Florida, but wildly successful, and also the real life DJ is an executive producer, and the actor writes the show, and it’s really, really good” without you calling me a liar. But all of those things are true, and it is really, really good.
I should back up for a second though: Diplo is a real person, who is apparently a music star. I know how old those words make me sound, but I have to put them out there. Because if you were to stumble upon the show without knowing Beek’s character is based on a real-life human being, who talks the way he does and is a “multi-millionaire DJ”, you’d call bullshit. And there are parts of the show that are intentionally absurd. Diplo’s brief interview segments offer his wisdom on things such as “Jobs” (“Don’t get one”), and “Gambling” (“If someone bets you that the cops won’t even care if you burn tires in your backyard, don’t take that bet. Because they do. Like they really do”).
What makes such an absurd real-life-thing into a brilliant real-life-show though is that Beek, who again, I cannot stress this enough, writes the show, never extends that absurdity into mocking what Diplo himself seems to hold most closely. Diplo, as a maybe-not-so-bright-DJ-from-Florida, who definitely did meth once, is open to ridicule. Diplo’s personal philosophy about art — that the only thing truly important is that the music connects with the audience — is never questioned or undermined. It adds a level of earnestness that perfectly complements the surrealism needed for a show about a mostly clueless white guy. Does Diplo have conversations with imaginary friends and pretend fistfights with ninjas in order to work out intrapersonal conflict? Yes. But in a way that seems super down-to-earth.
Such is the power of the Beek.