At first glance, “Sherman’s Showcase” requires unraveling several meta layers. The new IFC comedy from Diallo Riddle and Bashir Salahuddin (“Late Night with Jimmy Fallon”) is a faux docuseries about a fictional Black variety show (the aforementioned “Sherman’s Showcase”) that spans generations like the ones that inspired it, including “Soul Train” and “Solid Gold.” That might not seem like quite enough to sustain eight episodes, but the show works to find new ways to expand on its format. Different hosts cycle in and out every episode, ranging from John Legend and choreographer Nigel Lythgoe playing themselves to characters of the show’s creation taking a trip down memory lane. It even has commercial sketch breaks for parody products and bizarro movie trailers, though those tend to be more hit and miss than the weird trials and tribulations of the show itself.
Since the faux “Sherman’s Showcase” series supposedly ran from the 1970’s through to the present, there’s no shortage of references, songs, and fashion choices available for the cast to lovingly mock. (In a sly bit of surreality, Salahuddin’s Sherman and Riddle’s sardonic announcer never age even as everyone around them gain wrinkles and world weary sighs.) The allusions and inside jokes fly fast and thick. Sometimes, as when they’re not-so-subtly poking fun at specific historical figures like Prince, they’re obvious. Other times, the satire subjects are so particular that they risk obscuring the show’s meaning from casual viewers who can’t possibly catch them all.
Then again, that’s exactly the point. Why do something like “Sherman’s Showcase” at all unless you’re going to go hyper-specific with it? That’s exactly the approach that’s earned IFC’s “Documentary Now” so much critical acclaim, after all, except that “Sherman’s Showcase” uses a single show to frame its comedy and is highlighting Black music, movies, and cultural touchstones. (It’s almost definitely no coincidence that the overwhelmingly white critical community, which had dozens of takes on “Documentary Now”’s recent Stephen Sondheim spoof, has far less to say about “Sherman’s Showcase.”) Still, while there are recurring characters and some structural throughlines — episodes follow the dancers, guests, controversies, etc. — the show generally jumps around without lingering too long on any given subject. That can make it a little disorienting to follow, but the brisk rhythm also keeps both the IFC and fictional versions of “Sherman’s Showcase” from getting stale too soon.
“Sherman’s Showcase” premieres Wednesday, July 31 at 10 p.m. on IFC.