Flipping channels: A review of ‘Sneakerheads’ on Netflix
By now you’ve probably received the email or app notification from Netflix: “We just added a show you might like.” And if you did receive it, that show’s title probably jumped right off the phone at you.
The six-episode first season, created by Uncle Drew writer Jay Longino and Complex Networks, hit Netflix on September 25. Being one of the enthusiasts mentioned in the show’s title myself, I’d seen the promos flying around on Twitter for a few weeks prior and so I knew I’d have to check it out…for better or worse.
Below is my entirely subjective review. I’ll try to keep it spoiler-free, but if you haven’t sat down to binge it yet, continue at your own risk!
First, let’s touch on the basic plot. Allen Maldonado, whom you may recognize from Black-ish or The Last O.G., plays Devin, a reformed sneakerhead with a wife and two kids. It’s quickly established that Dev’s shoe habit got him into some financial trouble five years prior, and while he still burns for fresh kicks, his wife has kept him straight-laced (sorry.)
In the first episode, Devin is lured back into the game by a pair of ‘White Cement’ Air Jordan 4 Retros that he fondly remembers getting buckets in back in high school. He ends up at the end of a huge line outside a boutique on release day, and that’s where we run into his bad-influence buddy Bobby, who’s a hustler through and through. You can see where this is going.
The first couple of episodes set up the main story arc: Bobby talks Devin into dropping five bands on something that, according to Bobby’s overconfident urging, is bound to return their (read: Dev’s) investment many times over. You can also see where this is going. Hijinks ensue.
Joining the main characters are Nori (the plug, who spends every episode glued to her phone wheeling and dealing), Stuey (a wannabe hypebeast who tags along, trying to soak up Nori’s knowledge and playing the part of awkward comic foil) and Cole, your stereotypical hypebeast who talks smack and provides the easily dislikable antagonist.
The dialogue provides the occasional glimmer of character depth (for instance, when Bobby identifies Nori as mysterious sneaker connect StevieKickz, and she responds that it’s tough being a woman in the shoe game) but for the most part I feel like the characters are fairly predictable and one-dimensional.
There’s also no shortage of cameos, including customizer-to-the-stars The Shoe Surgeon, Dominic Ciambrone. The shoe game is white-hot right now (as evidenced by a show about flipping kicks being beamed into every living room in America), and the producers obviously had no issue finding sneaker-loving and culture-adjacent celebrities to make appearances.
Again, no spoilers, but there’s a tennis match with Michael Rapaport and Paul Pierce at the palatial LA home of a very famous Boston-born actor and sneakerhead, who’s played tongue-in-cheek by another actor. I had to hit Google to understand the joke, and I gotta say it didn’t land for me and felt incredibly weird. You’ll know what I mean when you watch it.
Let’s get down to brass tacks here. Sneakerheads, to me, felt confused. The level of detail and authenticity in its portrayal of hyped sneakers is high, a testament to the involvement of the folks over at Complex. You’ll recognize dozens of pairs of hot shoes, and the showrunners did a great job of replicating that thing we’ve all done, following someone’s feet across the room or up the street with your eyes when you see a rare pair in the wild.
But here’s my gripe. If you’re going to all this effort to be accurate in your depiction of high-heat sneakers, why would you make the characters chase a mythical and totally fictional Jordan sneaker as the main plot point?
If your target audience is a casual viewer, then that’s one thing. But because the level of shoe detail in Sneakerheads is so incredibly high, it’s way too technical to just be aimed at the casual viewer. If the point of the show was to take a critical or satirical look at the sneaker resale game for folks who had no idea this kind of thing happens every day, then the writers could easily have done so with fake sneaker models and kept it consistent with the fictional sneaker grail in the plot.
To me, this discrepancy felt like criticisms of The Fast and The Furious, albeit on a much smaller scale. Modified car enthusiasts back in the early 2000s made fun of the wildly popular movie for corny lines that, to the untrained ear, would sound like “real car stuff” but made absolutely no sense if you had any form of understanding of automotive engineering. Think Paul Walker’s passenger floor-pan falling out for some reason when he hits the NOS button, or when he says Hector ordered a “MoTec system exhaust.” MoTec makes engine computers, not exhausts, and that line got memed for YEARS afterwards.
My point is this: Viewers who understand the products in these niche (or formerly niche) pursuits notice these things and it’s a hit against the credibility of the production, so why do it? In my opinion you’ve either got to be authentic and true-to-life all the way through, or be entirely fictional.
It really speaks to how…mainstream the sneaker resale game has become that Netflix picked up a quasi-drama about it and is streaming it to the masses. But as it stands, I’m not entirely sure who the target audience for Sneakerheads is. Outside of the bot brigade and cook groups, nobody loves the way the secondary sneaker market operates — it’s a huge point of frustration for sneaker enthusiasts around the world who just want to be able to cop to wear, not make profit. A show about how we take Ls every weekend while some 14-year-old coder cops our retros doesn’t exactly make for relaxing or entertaining viewing. But I can’t help but feel that it’s also too technically detailed for the casual viewer to pick up and watch.
All in all, I’d say give Sneakerheads a look, because it’s only six 22-minute episodes and that’s not a huge time commitment. But go into it with the expectation that you’ll be rolling your eyes at some point during every episode.