The season 1 finale of VH1’s Barely Famous, a mockumentary/reality parody starring quasi-celebrity sisters Erin and Sara Foster, aired this week. It’s flown slightly under the critical radar, but this frothy, shiny, altogether unchallenging show is counterintuitively, undeniably good.
There are so many things about Barely Famous that made me skeptical: First of all, I mean, it’s on VH1. No offense to any die-hard fans of Walk of Shame Shuttle, but this is not a network known for its discerning creative choices. Secondly, the sisters themselves don’t seem, on the surface, like the most compelling protagonists—they are the genetically and financially privileged daughters of model Rebecca Dyer and famed composer/producer David Foster, who you might know as the vaguely reptilian, singalong-loving husband of Real Housewife Yolanda Foster (another strike against them, because I am automatically going to be both slightly repelled by the source of their fame and violently jealous of their proximity to Yolanda’s lemony embrace).
Because their father has remarried so many times, the sisters Foster are semi-related to a host of Hollywood scenesters, including Bella and Gigi Hadid and the Jenners. Although they aren’t really famous in their own right (hence the title), they appear to be close personal friends with almost all of Hollywood, and Erin Foster has dated both Samantha Ronson and (maybe!) Harry Styles. They are both supernaturally beautiful, and Vogue has recently declared them “It Girls.” And nothing makes me want to hate someone more than that particular stamp of approval.
But these biases are all pretty unfair, and if you share them, I have to recommend that you ignore—because this show is great. Following in the footsteps of shows like The Comeback, Erin and Sara satirize the Hollywood bubble by skewering caricatured versions of themselves. Sara, whose level of personal attractiveness reaches fembot territory, is a sociopathic would-be celebrity who, although she has a young daughter, describes herself as “an actress, first and foremost.” Abby McBride is excellent as Sara’s fawning, completely unnecessary assistant. As for Erin, her delusions are more personally motivated; she spends several episodes playing a “cat-and-mouse game” (she is the cat) with James Franco, who never appears onscreen.
In one episode, the sisters try to get more Twitter followers after a lunch with their social media-famous ex-stepsisters, who explain that it’s important to use “sweet little positive hashtags like #blessed.” Sara then tweets: “#Malibu #BestDayEver #HappyToBeAlive,” immediately after a bus full of schoolkids drives off a Malibu cliff. At the end of the episode, Sara explains of her constantly-devolving personal brand: “I haven’t felt the need to be one of those girls who are like, “Ooh, look at my boobs, look at my butt.” I’ve always been above it. And I’m still above it, but I’m going to start doing it more.”
Erin, who is a comedy writer on the show and in real life, is as interpersonally oblivious as Sara is maniacally overzealous; at one point, she loudly accuses Courteney Cox of stealing her socks, effectively killing a potentially advantageous working relationship. Both sisters regularly sabotage themselves and each other, and as each episode opens with a shot of their shared Beverly Hills mansion, the lingering impression is that none of this is very high-stakes—which is what makes their absurd hijinks feel so believable. Erin is especially fantastic; her slack-jawed, unflappable deadpan is heightens her character to a position of unbelievable relatability, considering the relatively un-relatable place both she and her character are coming from.
Valerie Cherish they are not. Abbi and Ilana they are not. Barely Famous is a glossy, low-impact good time; it’s the kind of show that makes you giggle, it’s not the kind of show that’s going to Transform The Comedy Landscape or inspire a mountain of thinkpieces. It feels both pandering and somewhat patronizing to be applauding these very affluent white women for making a relatively funny show, but here I am doing it, because they are charming as shit, and I can’t wait for Season 2.
Image via screenshot