Maxxx

3 out of 5

Directed by: Nick Collett, O.T. Fagbenle

covers season 1

There’s a point in Maxxx when O.T. Fagbenle – playing the eponymous trying-to-make-a-comeback 90s boyband singer – accosts a member of The Backstreet Boys and tells him that N’Sync was better.  This is typical of Maxxx’s writing across its six first season episodes: amidst a smatter of some interesting (and ridiculous) high concept ideas, and an okay hodgepodge of this with some attempts at exploring our vanities, it tries a rapid fire of jokes that often lead to the question: is that all you could come up with?

The pitch is mostly contained in my above description of its lead character, but there are some further details: Maxxx had a pretty significant fall from fame – drugs, drinking – and has been rejected by his other bandmates in one form or another as well as his (now) ex-girlfriend / model, and only manages to bluff his way back to the support of a producer (played by a humorously expressive and brusque Christopher Meloni) thanks to the similar bluffing of an agent, Tamzin (Pippa Bennett-Warner) also trying to work her way into the producer’s favor.  Along with his adopted son Amit (Alan Asaad) – adopted for cool, celeb points, of course – and a cousin / hanger-on (Helen Monks), Maxxx tries to work one lame, sexed up song and one more legitimate acoustic song into a second chance at a career, only discovering, episode by episode, how much of a joke he is to his “friends” and “fans.”

The entire cast is pretty stellar.  Meloni just has to be outlandish, which he does well, and Fagbenle mostly just has to do an embarrassingly over-the-top “dad tries to act cool” shtick, which he also does well, and Asaad and Bennett-Warner play variations on the straight characters to bounce hijinx off of, which they also both manage well.  Monks is a wildcard of antics and is hilarious throughout.  This all helps with that rather average hit-or-fall-flat joke ratio, which also means that when the jokes do hit – and there are admittedly one or two per episode that suddenly land – it all syncs together promisingly.  There’s also the appreciable dedication to the way the show treats Maxxx: while his arc is one of coming to understand how his one-time fame made him into a pretty empty – and often horrible – person, it doesn’t cheat that realization, or commit to anything that swerves away from the shallowness of his chosen profession, while at the same time, allowing for humans to exist in that kind of heightened lifestyle (such as Roxx (Sonny Charlton), a romantic interest for Amit).

But this is the juggling act the show can’t quite figure out: in the same way that it keeps sort of burbling through jokes to feel out what’s funny, it’s unclear how silly it’s supposed to be tonally versus some of its more serious aspirations.  Not that it’s ever not a comedy, just that there are times when it seems willing to jump full-on into farce – like in its opening episode, one of its most solid – and then times when it pulls back on that to work on character development.  This goes hand in hand with how the concept itself feels kind of dated (making fun of boy bands already had a window like more than a decade ago), but then the show leans in to that really smartly at times by bringing in more modern concepts.

Maxxx’s talented cast and a lot of potential and quirky ideas get stymied by some rather mundane humor, and odd notes of restraint when going weirder or wilder might’ve been better.