Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Your New Favorite Show
MTV's Zach Stone is Gonna Be Famous is halfway through its premiere season (no word yet on a second) and, if conversations with friends can be extrapolated to represent the American viewing public, most of you aren't watching. Why is that? Are you inherently distrustful of MTV's original programming, what with the guidos and teen werewolves and Catfishes? Were you trying to make it as a YouTube phenom at the same time show co-creator/star Bo Burnham was dropping videos like "I'm Bo Yo" and "My Whole Family"? Something else?
You've arrived at this post as one of two kinds of people:
1. You already watch, like me, and want to feel less alone defending a surprisingly great show to your skeptical friends.
2. You are that skeptical friend, for any of the reasons mentioned above, but willing to have your mind changed by incisive commentary/logic.
Second guy -- you made the right decision coming here! First guy -- I'm excited to let them know, too!
A quick primer: Zach Stone follows, you guessed it, Zach Stone (Burnham), a narcissistic, average high-school grad who hires a camera crew to document his quest for fame. "Ugh, how could he have gotten the money to do that?" you ask. From his job at the grocery store, obviously! But that's not the point. Each episode follows Zach as he navigates a different road to fame: launching his own dating show, "headlining" a funeral. In one episode, Zach attempts to make a sex tape with a hot classmate. Some of us have maybe never tried that, in or out of high school.
If it sounds gimmicky, that's what I felt after the premiere, too. Television isn't exactly wanting for ironic mockumentaries charting the exploits of wildly narcissistic characters! But what sets Zach Stone apart -- and makes it, no joke, my favorite sitcom on TV right now -- is the sincerity with which it tackles the premise. It's not all "isn't this kid fucking wacky?!" By the second episode, in which Zach tries his hand at a music career, you understand why Zach so desperately wants to be famous (high school sucked) as well as why his family and friends would put up with the whole endeavor (he's actually a sweet, albeit misguided guy). Each subsequent episode has only shaded in more of Zach's character, from his confusing feelings for best friend Amy (Caitlin Gerard) to his doubts about skipping college. So much of the YouTube/Facebook era is about posturing, crafting an image for yourself, and Zach Stone really nails the divide between "branding" and reality. Zach's a ridiculous caricature...but he's also an average young person trying to figure shit out.
Likewise, the show never portrays Zach's parents (Kari Coleman and Thomas F. Wilson) as clueless or unimportant. That would be the easy option, right? Instead, we side with them most of the time, completely understanding their mounting frustration with a son turning their lives into a TV show. They feel like real suburban parents, which is to say mine. Did I cry when Zach's dad told him the story of starting his own business? Absolutely not, but you might, maybe. It's totally fine.
And Zach's less a dick (which might have been expected from an MTV comedy) than he is a misguided dreamer. Actually, you know who he is? A ganglier, teenage Michael Scott. Any mugging for the camera just serves to mask real insecurity lurking underneath. And like The Office before it, Zach Stone cuts every two childish antics with one reminder that our hero is a credible human person. In last week's "Zach Is Gonna Be A Famous Chef," for instance, Zach washed green beans with hand soap and attempted a Benihana-style cooking performance in front of his parents' book group. But he also had a quietly moving heart-to-heart with his mom. Burnham and the whole cast sell every emotion with conviction. Funny here is always rooted in character; we understand completely where Zach is coming from.
Most importantly: it's very, very funny.
If you've made it this far and remain unconvinced that Zach Stone is a show you could watch, let alone love, can I tell you that it's a mere twenty-one minutes and very easy to enjoy over breakfast (not every show is breakfast material), or a thorough stretching session? Plus, you'll be at the vanguard of hip TV viewers when everyone comes around to it next season.
Or...you know. Very nearly the beginning.