Photo Credit: Doug Hyun/Netflix
If you are somehow unfamiliar with Maria Bamford’s gloriously weird comedic stylings, do yourself a favor and listen to one of her five comedy albums on Spotify (my personal favorite is 20%, released in 2016) or watch her most recent Netflix standup special, Old Baby. Better yet, watch seasons one and two of her Netflix Original show, Lady Dynamite, where she stars as a fictionalized version of herself. If this sounds daunting, that’s because it is–– Bamford has been working in comedy for upwards of 25 years, and has cemented her place as an alt-comedy icon. Her standup is characterized by observational character work–– mostly vulnerable impressions of her mother and father, who make a guest appearance in several of her stand up specials as well as Lady Dynamite–– and absurd descriptions of living with mental illness. Bamford is an outspoken advocate for mental health, having been diagnosed and hospitalized for a combination of bipolar II and obsessive compulsive disorder.
Some narratives about mental illness are authentic, heartfelt, and emotional. Lady Dynamite is all of that but also none of that, integrating earnest storytelling with wildly bizarre and occasionally violent imagery, talking pugs, and Olympic-level roller skating sequences. Season one of Lady Dynamite is devoted to a charming combination of the honest and surreal pitfalls and triumphs of living with mental illness. The season shifts between “Before,” charting the various events leading up to an onstage breakdown that caused Bamford’s hospitalization in her hometown of Duluth, Minnesota, “During,” which focuses specifically on her hospital stay, and “Present,” wherein she attempts to get her life back together.
Normally this is where I would add a link to a trailer, but both official trailers for seasons one and two are too profane for the gentle readers of this blog. Instead, here’s an infomercial style promo released by Netflix that captures the spirit of the show and gives a taste of Bamford’s voice acting abilities:
Now that you have a grasp of the basic concept of this critically acclaimed show, let’s dive right in. Beware: Mild spoilers ahead for Lady Dynamite season two.
Season two picks up seven days after Maria moves in with her long term boyfriend Scott Marvel Cassidy (played by the understated but hilarious Ólafur Darri Ólafsson). Time is broken up between the 1980’s Duluth, Minnestota, the present day, and a terrifying future complete with jump cuts, techno music, and lens flares. In this “Future” Maria pitches her fictional television show “Maria Bamford is Nuts!” to an entertainment company called “Muskvision,” a clear parody of Netflix. Where last season focused on the Maria’s breakdown and hospitalization, this season focuses more on navigating romantic and familial relationships while balancing a successful television show, financial woes, and the grim, ever-present specter of mental illness.
Photo Credit: Beth Dubber/Netflix
I went in to season two with high expectations. I cannot stress enough how much Maria, Bert (my favorite of the two talking pugs), and the rest of the Lady Dynamite crew exceeded those expectations. The show revels in self-aware silliness but still manages to hit home a few key lessons. First: love can’t cure mental illness, so don’t even expect to try. Second: take care of yourself or else you might end up a puppet in a master plan to bring about the apocalypse because of your need to please people. Third, and in this reporter’s opinion most importantly: when the going gets tough, you just have to put on your best hot dog suit and disco your cares away.
You can watch both seasons of Lady Dynamite on Netflix now!
ALISON KAITCER | Came for the comedy, stayed for the baby goat | KXSU Arts Reporter