Recommendation Machine: ‘Moses Storm: Trash White’ Is a Thrilling Example of Where Stand-Up May be Headed

·4 min read

Welcome to Recommendation Machine, your daily IndieWire destination for TV suggestions of what to watch. Each weekday, we’ll offer up a series we think should be on your viewing radar. Though most of the shows included here are recent offerings from networks and streaming services, this will also be a place to take a look at different chapters in TV history readily available for anyone looking to immerse themselves in an ever-expanding medium.

As everyone with even a passing connection to TV will have happily told you for the better part of the last decade, there are too many shows. They’ll use words like cornucopia or plethora or deluge or glut. Bottom line: There are plenty of options for things to queue up next. So, while we’ll try to provide as many of those as we can from streaming’s heavy hitters like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Max, there will also be plenty of chances to highlight the best shows on lesser-known services — hidden gems to try out during one of those free trials you haven’t used up yet. International shows, docuseries, some projects that, at first glance, might not even seem like TV: They’re all up for grabs.

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In every installment, we’ll not only make a case for the show itself, but pick out some particular elements that make the whole thing worth a try. And for those who may have already taken the plunge on that day’s pick, we’ll also try to throw in some next-step ideas for something similar. Along the way, we may even toss in some suggestions for an album or a book or a movie. There’s no telling what the Recommendation Machine might manage to turn out next!

All past Recommendation Machine installments will be carefully housed here, for your bookmark and perusal needs. For now, here’s our choice for today’s show that’s very much worth your TV-watching energy:

“Moses Storm: Trash White”

Where to Watch ‘Moses Storm: Trash White’: HBO Max

The best part of “Moses Storm: Trash White” — and an early high bar for the funniest on-screen sequence of 2022 — centers on a swimming pool. It involves a lot of gyrating arms, colors shown and imagined, one spectacular set of metaphors, and plenty of different camera angles. It’s the kind of sensory experience you might not expect from a stand-up special. Still, with Storm as a guide, it’s a window into how a series of tweaks to the traditional appearance of an hourlong set can enrich an already exciting performance.

Most of “Trash White” centers on Storm’s upbringing. He starts out explaining how growing up poor doesn’t match with his more trust fund-y appearance. From there, he weaves through a series of stories from toddler to young adulthood, ones that cover homelessness, troubles with access to affordable food, and decisions made in an effort to save money.

All of this plays out for cameras that aren’t as much built to move as they’re able to capture a dome of perspective around Storm and the barricade of white items set up around stage. (That Storm has to climb up to the platform in the middle of LA’s Montalban Theatre is the first hint that this won’t exactly play out in a familiar way.) Without a mic to hold, Storm crawls, collapses, crouches, and moves his way around the stage in plenty of other ways that don’t start with “c.” Rather than stay fixed in Storm’s eyeline, “Trash White” becomes a way to experience all of these stories on different literal levels. The blank monochrome canvas Storm is standing on gets drenched in a spectrum of light and shadows that shift when circumstances call for it.

The ultimate goal of so many stand-up specials is to recreate the energy of a room, to give someone sitting on a couch as much of the electric experience of laughter in a room. Some recent specials have toyed with the standard visual language of the straightforward, multi-cam setup to better capture the storytelling patterns of the person at the center. You can see it in Maria Bamford switching venues, Joe Mande sneaking in sketch bookends, Jerrod Carmichael adjusting to an in-the-round approach, or Drew Michael removing an in-person audience altogether. “Moses Storm: Trash White” is a synthesis of a few of those ideas, with a dusting of “Patriot Act” on top.

Storm spends the hour on a stage that doubles as a projector screen, a handy tool to have when making references to photos and videos and incidents from the past. Sure, there’s power in painting a mental picture of all of these — which Storm does well — but why not cut to an overhead shot for a visual aid if you can do that too? Storm and co-director Lance Bangs have a solid instinct of when to punctuate jokes and when to complement them, all without these sensory changes feeling like a gimmick.

Of course, all of this visual flair would be wasted without an hour of material that earns this special presentation style. Early on, when Storm makes a reference to shifting stand-up conventions, it’s not done in a derisive way. When he compares “modern comedy” to a TED Talk, it’s more self-deprecation on behalf of his profession, looking more at how what some people expect out of a show has changed. That he gives a thoughtful snippet of what that theoretical version of his set would look and sound like shows that he’s not dismissive of how some audiences use comedy to absorb what they’ve never experienced firsthand.

And “Trash White” is a really effective showcase for Storm’s writing and timing. There’s a specificity and enthusiasm for the way he describes the necklines of his childhood clothes that has all the catharsis of ideas slowly being built up and turned over for decades. When Storm turns his attention to the general American attitudes toward poor communities, he does so with the acknowledgment that there’s misunderstanding stemming from the perceptions of both the malicious and the well-intentioned.

All of that care and precision is only highlighted by the unconventional ways that “Trash White” unfolds. As the world of stand-up continues to reinvent itself, it’ll be interesting to see whether this approach is part of a trend or more of an outlier. Either way, if this the kind of energy that more 2022 specials will bring, comedy is in for a fascinating year.

Missed any other outputs from Recommendation Machine? You can read every past version here.

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