By Sam Acosta
In a world oversaturated with sitcoms, it is hard to find any with much to offer beyond a few crude jokes. It seems as if there are no more original ideas for the genre, with most modern shows being simple copy-and-paste replicas of more successful predecessors like the seemingly endless “Office” and “Friends” clones. There are, however, a few hidden gems out there, shows with both originality and quality. “Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous” is one of those gems.
The show follows Zach Stone (Bo Burnham), an 18-year-old who has just graduated from high school. While his friends are spending their summers preparing for college, Zach is spending it in a very different way: spending his entire life savings to have a camera crew follow him around and document his journey to inevitable fame and stardom. What will Zach be famous for? That is for him, and us, to find out.
This sitcom, which was just recently added to Netflix’s catalog, originally aired in 2013 on MTV. With its creator, renowned comedian Bo Burnham, acting as both writer and actor in the show, his unique brand of comedy shines through in what would otherwise be the already familiar mockumentary format.
Part of the genius of this show is how perfectly it satirizes the modern trend of wanting to be famous. This ideology has become increasingly popular because of the success of social media platforms like Vine and TikTok. What makes this show even more impressive is that it came in the very early days of this trend, as Vine had only been launched a year prior to the show’s airing. The timing might have contributed to why MTV canceled the show after only one twelve-episode season: It was simply ahead of its time.
Watching it today, however, allows you to fully appreciate its commentary. “Zach Stone” gives such a fine blend of comedy and storytelling that creates more of a connection to the characters and world than most other sitcoms. Despite the rather ridiculous nature of the plot, there are more serious moments that made me feel more like an audience member. Watching how Zach’s pursuit of stardom strains his relationship with his parents, the way that he struggles to fit in and the development of his relationship with Amy feels more true-to-life and substantial than the typical triviality that most other sitcoms provide.
Zach makes almost every situation he’s in incredibly awkward.
One of this show’s strengths is its ability to utilize awkwardness. The amount of cringe that Zach is able to inflict on the viewer in any given episode rivals the infamous “Scott’s Tots” episode of “The Office.” From speaking at the funeral of a woman he doesn’t know to perform ringtones for a group of emo teenagers, Zach is able to make any situation as uncomfortable as possible.
Zach’s search for what will make him famous is another essential aspect of the show that provides a nice variety of comedic situations while also keeping it consistently entertaining. While some of the comedic setups are definitely stronger than others, I loved that each episode is dedicated to its own scheme, given its own unique intro and feels like it naturally follows from the next one.
Burnham utilizes the mockumentary format so well, creating a seamless transition between the ongoing story and the constant fourth-wall-breaking. The characters’ interaction with the camera makes us viewers feel like we are right there in the action. It also connects us better with what is happening, and the jokes fit perfectly with this style of filming.
The ending of this show is one of the reasons I think it is so special. Zach admits his feelings for his childhood best friend Amy but is rejected, leading him to distance himself from her. After pushing away almost everyone in his life to achieve his dreams, Zach is given a chance to have his story featured on his local news station. As he is being interviewed on live TV, however, he admits that all he can do is think about Amy, stating that he would rather not be famous as long as he can be with her.
He goes backstage and quickly finds that Amy is there and wants to be with him. Zach promises that he won’t try to be famous anymore and is simply happy with being in her life. As the two leave the news station, they are met with a crowd of fans who all want Zach’s autograph. As Zach interacts with the crowd, the camera slowly zooms in on Amy’s face as she goes from looking completely happy to heartbreakingly sad.
There was so much irony and emotion in these final moments. It seemed as if Zach had learned his lesson and was finally seeing the happiness that was sitting in front of him all along. Yet, as he is signing autographs at the end, we can see through Amy’s expression that maybe he hasn’t learned anything after all, that maybe he is unable to stop, even though he has what he said he needed in Amy.
“Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous” is a show that deserves more seasons, but perhaps, it doesn’t need them. This show makes you laugh just as much as it makes you think. While there are some small content issues that should warrant caution for certain viewers, this is a show that I recommend, both for its entertainment value and for its lessons.
“Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous” is now streaming on Netflix.
Sam Acosta is a Junior Theatre Comprehensive Major and an A&E writer for Cedars. He likes spending his time watching movies, drinking Dr. Pepper and writing plays.