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Even if you aren’t a fan of the Los Angeles art scene, chances are good that you know David Choe, at least on some level.
For years, he’s been the wild eccentric with whom other wild eccentrics like to spend time. He’s been part of several Vice properties, spent an episode of Parts Unknown as tour guide to Anthony Bourdain (he features heavily in Morgan Neville’s upcoming Bourdain documentary, Roadrunner) and traveled with David Chang for multiple episodes of Ugly Delicious. He’s adored enough in certain circles that he’s made in-joke cameos in episodes of The Mandalorian and Better Things.
The Choe Show
Airdate: 10 p.m. Friday, June 25 (FX)
Creator: David Choe
The idea that if some of your favorite personalities want to hang out with Choe (and collect his art) then you probably will as well drives FX’s The Choe Show, and very frequently proves to be accurate. As a TV series guest, Choe is an unruly force of anarchy and I’m confident that he’d only feel complimented by my calling The Choe Show a chaotic, emotionally unguarded mess. It’s a talk show in which the subject matter sometimes leads to the host talking more than the guests. It’s an art show in which the creation of individual canvasses is sometimes forgotten entirely.
The Choe Show exists as an anxious and cacophonous counterpoint to the slow-jazz chill of HBO’s Painting With John, which premiered earlier this year and was built around another member of the Anthony Bourdain traveling cohort, John Lurie.
To be reductive, Choe is a Los Angeles-born artist who, in the mid-’00s, became a commissioned muralist and painter for the rich and famous — as well as the pre-rich and pre-famous — which led him to gigs with Facebook bigwigs Sean Parker and Mark Zuckerberg, work he chose to be paid for in Facebook stock. Smart move.
To stay reductive, each episode of The Choe Show finds him sitting down with celebrities of various statures and painting their portrait. Except that Choe complains in most episodes about how much he hates doing portraits, and there’s nothing as quaint here as a star sitting down in a chair and having a conversation while Choe stands behind an easel.
Some of the guests have intimate and long-term relationships with Choe, including adult film star Asa Akira and tattoo impresario Kat Von D and The Office favorite Rainn Wilson. Some are connected to Choe in topical ways, like author Erica Garza, who shares his professed addiction to pornography. And then there are familiar faces who have no obvious connection to Choe, but turn out to share similar inner demons, like Will Arnett.
The interviews are primarily conducted in Choe’s home, which happens to be the home from his not-particularly happy childhood. It’s a residence he reclaimed for what can only be described as psychologically symbolic reasons. Either he wants to transform the home into a place of new, positive memories or he wants to tear the place to shreds (an offer he makes to a reticent Steve-O). With Choe, there probably isn’t anything in-between.
Choe’s willingness — possibly closer to “eagerness” or “insistence” — to bring his own autobiography into these interviews inspires comparable openness from his guests, whether it’s Arnett or Maya Erskine discussing moments of childhood shame, Akira delving into insecurities tied to her pregnancy, Steve-O explaining how childhood abandonment led to a career as an “attention whore” or rapper Denzel Curry talking about his brother’s death. Tears are shed frequently in these unlicensed therapy sessions and you can’t always predict who will shed them.
You also can’t predict how much art will ever actually be done in an episode of The Choe Show or in what medium. It can be as simple as a watercolor or oil portrait, though those are usually defaced before they have any resemblance to the intended subject. Choe and Arnett sit and play with rainbows of clay. Sometimes there’s just straight-up absurdist performance art, like sketches in which Wilson plays Akira or Choe plays Erskine in a bowl wig straight out of Pen15. Even the delineations between half-hour installments are blurred, as guests can appear in different capacities in different episodes, occasionally continuing the same heart-to-hearts and occasionally in cameos in multimedia pieces orchestrated by series director Paco Raterta, who utilizes traditional animation, claymation and doctored home movies.
Most viewers won’t know exactly what to make of The Choe Show, since its artistic artifice can make even the most extreme bouts of candor seem as if they’re planned and performative. FX doesn’t know what to make of The Choe Show either, which is probably why all four episodes are airing in a two-hour block June 25 before moving to FX on Hulu, where audiences can choose to either embrace or mess with the strange continuity between installments. Either way, if you’ve ever seen Choe passing through another of your favorite shows, The Choe Show is a fascinating glimpse at what makes him tick — or maybe it’s the artistic representation of what he wants TV audiences to think makes him tick.
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