Champaign ILL premiered on YouTube Premium in 2018 to quiet fanfare. The premise seemed charming enough—comedy stalwarts Adam Pally and Sam Richardson as Ronnie and Alf, a hard-partying entourage duo forced to grow up and readjust to an everyday existence when their best-friend-turned-famous-rapper suddenly dies. (With his death, Ronnie and Alf’s fame and fortune evaporate overnight.) Despite the two hilarious stars and the show’s impressive writer-producer pedigree (with credits including the fiercely loved sitcom Happy Endings), Champaign ILL got lost in the great streaming deluge. You’d be forgiven for missing it.
Fast forward two years: Hulu acquired and re-premiered the series last month, and quickly Champaign ILL found itself with a totally new audience, and rumors of a second season have already started to swirl. Early visuals and trailers for the show suggested a gentle roasting of showy clout-obsessed hypebeasts: the stars mugged for the camera while outfitted in gold chains, gaudy sneakers, and otherwise flashy attire. Now that millions could easily watch it for the first time, they found a show that was a little darker and a lot more compelling than the initial release suggested. And, interestingly, it reveals itself as a show that uses brand-forward fashion and all it signifies better than just about anything else on TV.
Costume-wise, the show is a meticulous study of how hip-hop stars and their entourages dressed in the late 2010s. (One would guess that Migos and October’s Very Own might have been on the mood board.) There are clout goggles and Palm Angeles tracksuits and Balenciaga sneakers and Supreme crossbody bags, along with rapper-approved labels like Vlone and Off-White and more in-the-know gear from brands like Born x Raised and Pleasures. It was the effort of costume designer Frank Helmer and stylist Jasmine Benjamin. Both obviously did the homework and delivered a deeper and more detailed wardrobe than could have been expected.
As the show progresses, it doesn’t shy away from the darker corners of post-fame life—and uses the strange role clothing plays in the modern image-obsessed man’s life to illustrate that point. At one point, the two guys move into a shitty apartment together. They sit on the floor in an empty living room, without the cash to buy furniture, watching an iPhone propped up by a Balenciaga Triple S sneaker. “It was so smart to strip away all the distractions,” Ronnie says to Alf. (The visual gag is funny on its own but cuts a little sharper when you know the shoe itself retails for nearly $1,000.) In another episode, the guys get beat up by a clique of streetwear-glad teenagers wielding a Supreme-branded brick. (“Is that a Supreme brick?!”) Champaign ILL is full of these little moments—jokes that mine the present-day luxe-streetwear obsession for the material.