At the heart of all fame-seeking stories is the same central question: “Who needs integrity when you could be successful?” In Maxxx, that question is asked many times and in many ways to Maxxx (O-T Fagbenle) himself and those around him. The former boyband star is nearing 40 and looking to make a comeback to win over his supermodel ex-girlfriend Jourdan (Jourdan Dunn), but the road back is proving to be arduous for the self-absorbed performer.
Running six half-hour episodes, Maxxx makes for an easy binge watch. Written by Fagbenle (who has also starred in The Handmaid’s Tale and Looking), the series trades in funny if thinly-drawn familiar character types: Uptight, undersexed manager Tamzin (Pippa Bennett-Warner), flamboyant and volatile record exec Don Wild (Christopher Meloni), strange but fiercely loyal Cousin Rose (Helen Monks). Maxxx’s adopted son, Amit (Alan Asaad), adds an interesting dimension to otherwise obvious dynamics, but isn’t yet given enough to do—although a side story with his gender-fluid love interest Roxx, played by Sonny Charlton, shows promise.
For his part, Fagbenle is excellent as the spiraling former star, who constantly pops pills and drinks booze like water. His only hope of returning to fame, at first, is to get the boyband that catapulted him to stardom back together—but that option is erased from the board quickly. It makes way for Tamzin to encourage Maxxx to find and embrace his authentic self, which manifests in an impromptu (and incredibly catchy) ballad that is ultimately shelved for a gross pop mishap he calls “Soft Serve.” The push and pull between these two elements defines the rest of the series, which has the opportunity to take a risk at the end but ultimately pulls itself back to safety.
Nevertheless, Maxxx is a breezily charming new entry into the canon of U.K. cringe comedy (Hulu is broadcasting the series in the U.S. before it finishes airing in its home country—a rarity). Fagbenle augments the humor of pop star patter, while scenes that deal with racism and stereotyping in the industry are well-placed even if they are too easily moved past.
In some ways, Maxxx is akin to the Netflix series Turn Up Charlie, which starred Idris Elba as a DJ who blew it in his career by getting lost in booze and partying, and who is desperate to clean up and mount a comeback. Maxxx isn’t quite as cutesy and sincere as Turn Up Charlie, nor is its central love plot as compelling, but both serve as a peek into the perils of a soulless industry focused solely on moving units—to the detriment of the true believers within.
There isn’t much in the way of redemption in Maxxx’s world, and the contempt for everyone—from fickle fans (“Do they want healing through music or numbing through noise? They’ve made their choice!” Don Wild shouts at Maxxx.) up to greedy top executives—is acute. But both in his script and his performance, Fagbenle does allow for a modicum of hope. There is an authenticity to Maxxx if he dares to find it, and there is a chance for connection. But then that old question makes its own comeback: “Why are we chasing authen-fucking-ticity when you could have fame?”
Maxxx premieres in full on Hulu Tuesday, July 28th.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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