Maria Bamford’s Netflix series Lady Dynamite is a comedy show like no other. Sure, you can lump it with other series of comedians-doing-TV—from Louie to The Sarah Silverman Program and hell, the cream of the crop, Seinfeld—but that would do it a severe disservice. Arrested Development maestro Mitchel Hurwitz’s take breaks every single wall (literally and metaphorically), offering an entirely fresh perspective that’s Curb-level cringe-worthy sometimes, yet straight up genius all the time.
Bamford plays herself as the show blends three different timelines in her life: her past and present Hollywood life, and her former life in Duluth, Minn., shortly after her Bipolar II diagnosis, mental breakdown, and eventual institutionalization. Those familiar with Bamford’s comedy act know that her humor revolves around her dysfunctional family and self-deprecation surrounding her real-life depression and anxiety. She’s also known for her insanely eccentric voices and characters. All of that is incorporated into Lady Dynamite, but there’s never an over abundance of rehashed material.
Bamford’s own eccentricity and undying energy adds to her character’s instability. In the first episode alone, we watch her mentally unravel and squirm in sheer discomfort as she tries to bring her community together by installing a park bench in her front yard for neighbors to convene at. At times, Bamford’s flow makes little sense, but the show remains noncommittal to following tropes, or hell, even normal series structure. Dynamite remains committed to nothing but itself. It doesn’t care whether you’re strapped in and seated—it twists and turns and does whatever it wants to leading to one surprise after another. It’s a gleeful ride through the mind of a mentally unstable character who is fumbling and tumbling her way through life, while learning how to deal both post-psych ward and post-fame.
[Aside: Bamford’s comedy, in general, and accomplishment here is super brave and highly commendable. What she is doing helps battle the stigmas our country holds against those suffering from mental illness, and also raises awareness about the issue and normalizes those afflicted—I just think that’s important to note. /Aside]
There’s a laundry list of celebrity cameos that you’ll know and love (Patton Oswalt, Tig Notaro, Judd Apatow and Sarah Silverman), but Lady‘s main cast doesn’t need them. Ana Gasteyer is gold as Maria’s agent, and Mary Kay Place and Ed Begley Jr. clean up as her parents. Oh, and then there’s Dean Cain, Fred Melamed, and, well, this is getting pretty name drop-y.
It’s sort of complicated to describe what Hurwitz and Bamford have crafted. If Arrested Development and 30 Rock met at a discotheque, and had a threesome with 30 Rock’s distant-cousin Louie (I said “distant” people, relax!), and that interaction produced a baby, but no one really knew who the real dad was…that baby would be Lady Dynamite. I’m not really sure why it matters who the father is in that ridiculous scenario, but just watch Lady Dynamite and go along for the weird and wonky ride that it is. TV hasn’t been this much fun in years. Grade: A