Amazon Prime’s new animated series has a zany, anything-could-happen sensibility. Which makes it a little disappointing that what usually does happen is a bleeding-edge cultural reference.
To be clear, “Fairfax,” about a group of middle-school hypebeasts (which is to say, streetwear obsessives) coming of age in image-obsessed Los Angeles, is often very funny in how far it’s willing to push its media-saturated sensibility. More often, though, it can feel bleak, as in thrall to the phenomena it’s satirizing as it is skeptical.
Skyler Gisondo voices Dale, a new student at an Instagram-crazed school, one whose principal holds pep rallies to celebrate pupils getting IG-verified. His new friend group, made up of characters played by Kiersey Clemons, Peter S. Kim, and Jaboukie Young-White, quickly inculcate him into their grail-seeking universe, in which looking cool — particularly for one’s online audience — is all.
There’s plenty to mock here, and the show can go in for the kill — generally when depicting grasping and desperate adults, from that school administrator to Dale’s parents, kindly but cluelessly trying to be a part of his new world. More often, though, the show takes as accepted wisdom that the kids’ goals — to bolster their popularity through consumption and broadcasting that consumption — are worthy enough. The school has, for instance, a red carpet step-and-repeat for characters to show off their looks. Yes, this is approached with some ironic distance, but the show is at its most playful and insouciant when setting up scenarios that frankly seem depressingly similar to the way image defines life for people young and old today.
“Fairfax” is all about the struggle to be cool. It also inhabits it, deploying references (the first episode is built around a Supreme-style brand) and semi-ironic celebrity guest spots that seem intended to dazzle more than to amuse. After several episodes, the pursuit of impressing others came to feel insufficient as a guiding principle. Because the characters’ relationships are minimally developed — Dale’s effectively plopped into a pre-existing friend group and immediately adopts their interests — the quest for status is the guiding light, and the bond that unites. And that’s not quite enough.
I’d question, too, whom “Fairfax” exists to entertain. It’s marketed at adults, who may ruefully chuckle at its Gen-Z characters’ antics. But its constant barrage of references to social-media culture and to the real-world trends it has facilitated make it eventually grate on the ear of someone who’s graduated middle school. And kids the age of the “Fairfax” characters may not be habituated to sitting down and watching an eight-episode TV series. That’s the trouble with being too cool — you may end up alienating all those who don’t quite fit into your world.
“Fairfax” launches Friday, Oct. 29, on Amazon Prime Video.