TV Reviews: Andy Samberg – Popstar Palms, Or Frivolous Felicity

January 30, 2023




Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping / Palm Springs (16LS)


Brooklyn 99 is up there with The Office – and there is scarcely higher praise in TV terms – for its ability to mix concerted, glorious silliness with threads that underline the characters’ flawed, beautiful, weird humanity. At the centre of that show was Andy Samberg as goofy but somehow effective Detective Jake Peralta, and his ability to meld dorky lovability with knowing drollness – a major factor in his popularity on Saturday Night Live as well – holds viewers’ attention. He also, and this is a rare knack indeed, manages to communicate joy to onlookers, and in a medium where superficiality reigns, the importance of this achievement cannot be underestimated.

Two other Samberg projects – Netflix’s Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping and Palm Springs on Showmax, further embed his reputation in this area. The former, written with Samberg’s Lonely Island colleagues Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schafferm sees Samberg play Connor4Real, a singer in a preening, posing boy band who gets an even bigger head than the red carpet flashbulbs and Instagram influencing of that world allow when he decides to go solo. This Is Spinal Tap parodied rock music and the madness of touring life. Popstar rips off a lifestyle that is so risibly shallow already that it hardly needs satire, but the Lonely Island guys are genuinely good at writing and performing parody songs, and match that with a willingness to make some snort-inducingly bad jokes. The result is a not particularly deep but mostly giggle-worthy (some of the jokes are too low-brow for people this smart) take-down of influencer culture, which, lets face it, deserves that.

Palm Springs, while also a comedy, is a more thoughtful affair, which sees Samberg’s laconic wedding guest Nyles stuck in a time loop that functions as a prison, but also a platform – if he has the energy – on which to explore strange and sometimes dangerous ways to alter the outcome of what will otherwise be a return to exactly the same scenario. The arrival of another character (Cristin Milioti’s Sarah) in this curious set-up changes the dynamic completely, not least once the pair’s relationship starts to develop in a variety of ways. The story could just tap the established Groundhog Day Hollywood tropes, playing it safe and relying on the charm of its performers to round out a solid but unspectacular project. But the writing allows for more depth than that – acerbic nihilism in a rom-com; it works! – and Samberg’s usual screen persona (see above) is both filled out and subverted as Nyles quips his way through conversations while also desperately seeking some sort of meaning in the spiral he can’t escape. It’s funny futility, with added JK Simmons.