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Manhood is a Challenge for a Former Boy Band Member in Maxxx

A faded pop star tries to mount a comeback in Hulu's latest British import.
  • O-T Fagbenle stars in Maxxx (Hulu)
    O-T Fagbenle stars in Maxxx (Hulu)

    Boy bands generally, and their individual members specifically, are often punchlines. But are those punchlines funny enough to comprise a six-episode British sitcom?

    Maxx comes to Hulu as part of a week-long "British Binge-Cation" of full-season drops that kicked off Monday with Jamie Oliver's quarantined cooking show Jamie: Keep Cooking and Carry On. Maxxx follows today, and will be proceeded by Ladhood, a comic look back at one's adolescent masculinity from a slightly more mature observer; In My Skin, a dark comedy focusing on a 16-year-old Welsh girl's struggles to keep her difficult home life secret from her schoolmates; and finally the Lancashire-set buddy comedy Brassic, starring Preacher's Joseph Gilgun as a man with bipolar disorder. Maxxx is the brainchild of O-T Fagbenle (The Handmaid's Tale), who first created launched it in 2017 as a series of shorts; it was picked up to series for Britain's E4 the following year. In its current iteration (which premiered in the UK in April), Fagbenle stars as the titular Maxxx, formerly one-third of Boy Town, the biggest boy band of 2006 until Maxxx destroyed it with his drug use and misbehavior. Now, in what appears to be the present day, Maxxx is determined to mount a comeback, mostly to win back supermodel Jourdan Dunn (playing herself), the ex he's still stalking on Instagram. His old manager, Don Wild (Christopher Meloni), isn't interested in handling Maxxx's career himself — he was pretty sure Maxxx was dead, in fact — but when Tamzin (Pippa Bennett-Warner), a junior staffer at Don's company, convinces him that Maxxx's aging female fan base is one of the few demographics that still buys CDs, Don decides Maxxx's comeback can be her problem. And a problem he most assuredly will be.

    It's an oversimplification to say that British TV viewers are more accustomed than their American counterparts to sitcoms that put unpleasant characters in uncomfortable situations. However, it may be fair to say that without British comic actors like Steve Coogan (Knowing Me, Knowing You and its many sequels) and Jennifer Saunders (Absolutely Fabulous) co-creating sitcom vehicles for themselves to play mostly irredeemable shitheads, American comic actors like Charlie Day and Rob McElhenney might not have brought us It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, and Tina Fey wouldn't have created 30 Rock. One imagines that Fagbenle thinks of this project as belonging to that tradition of British comedy — that he's more concerned with putting Maxxx in compellingly cringey situations than he is with making him "likable" in the sense the term would be used in an American network executive's note. If there were any doubt as to how we're supposed to feel about Maxxx, it's obliterated in the series premiere, which closes with him ruining a funeral — he's not even high, just a narcissist with no sense of occasion or boundaries — as his cousin/personal assistant Rose (Helen Monks) captures the whole display on video.

    When Don congratulates Rose in the next episode for posting the funeral clip on YouTube because it's created buzz around Maxxx, you can pretty much guess how the rest of the comeback saga is going to go. There's nothing wrong with building a sitcom around an asshole — Veep and Curb Your Enthusiasm certainly bear that out — but the cynicism of the music industry at this stage of late capitalism is a pretty easy target. At times, it feels as though we're supposed to empathize with Tamzin: though Maxxx is mostly an imbecile, she does recognize his potential as an artist beyond the one obscene song, "Soft Serve," that was left unproduced from his Boy Town days, and encourages him to develop a number called "Rolling Dice," an authentic expression of his regrets about past relationships. One of the first things Tamzin does after Don hands Maxx over to her is verbally slap Maxxx down when he tries to criticize her for dressing like a librarian and calls her "baby," but she never quite recaptures that energy with him and is mostly relegated to reacting to his or Don's over-the-top clownishness. Fagbenle adds elements to try to make the series feel contemporary and/or scandalous — a genderqueer teen (Sonny Charlton as Roxx, Don's child); a couple into cuckolding play — fortunately playing only the latter for laughs. But by the time the viewer arrives at the episode in which an unconscious character finds himself in limbo while a sarcastic guide takes him through flashback lowlights of his misspent existence, one must conclude that this is a show created by someone who hasn't watched enough recent TV to avoid tropes and clichés.

    Maxxx isn't horrendously bad; I'm never mad seeing Christopher Meloni in a comedic role, and though Don is a reprehensible character, Meloni makes him fun to watch. Fagbenle is also probably having more fun here than he is in The Handmaid's Tale's dystopia (at least...I hope he is), but every beat of Maxxx's comeback story is so predictable that his eponymous series is worse than bad: it's boring. I can't speak for the rest of the titles in Hulu's "Binge-Cation," but this is one you definitely don't need to take.

    All six episodes of Maxx are now available for streaming on Hulu.

    Writer, editor, and snack enthusiast Tara Ariano is the co-founder of Television Without Pity and Fametracker (RIP). She co-hosts the podcasts Extra Hot Great and Again With This (a compulsively detailed episode-by-episode breakdown of Beverly Hills, 90210), and has contributed to New York, the New York Times magazine, Vulture, Decider, Salon, and Slate, among many others. She lives in Austin.

    TOPICS: Maxxx, Hulu, Christopher Meloni, O-T Fagbenle