Review: LADY DYNAMITE Season One

Posted on Monday, June 20th, 2016 at 6:44 pm

[Originally Written and Published for Crossfader Magazine]

Maria Bamford is a comedian who is not for everyone. For outliers, weirdos, and general fans of alternative comedy over the years, her humor has been plenty fine and fitting. It’s even more fitting that a show by her and about her, Netflix’s new LADY DYNAMITE, is equally as specific and polarizing. It’s a single cam comedy that is all over the place, about being all over the place. Co-helmed by ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT’s Mitchell Hurwitz and Pam Brady of SOUTH PARK and HOT ROD, Maria Bamford’s own sitcom about her life and career as a comedian definitely stretches the expectations and definitions of such a show, and what any show can/should be. Bamford’s tale is portrayed in such intensely metaphysical fashions that it can be easily understood how one would be put off. Yet, told in tandem with the comedic insanity is a tale of genuine sanity told so earnestly through Bamford’s unique lens, LADY DYNAMITE not only succeeds as another new comedy series, but as a potent character study. In a word, it’s “special.”

On paper, LADY DYNAMITE is Bamford’s own version of an autobiographical sitcom. This is her LOUIE, or MARON, or MULANEY, or SEINFELD. Bamford and crew are so aware that they dedicate half a subplot to obliterating the fourth wall, acknowledging that they have to do things differently. A cameo appearance from Patton Oswalt turns into a co-starring role for Oswalt as himself, telling Maria that her audience deserves something new, and can deal with “form-busting narrative innovation,” in a non-jarring way. Maria is then interrupted by one of her own show’s title cards, indicating one of the three key periods for her story before, during, and after a huge mental breakdown. The differences are clear not only by title cards, but in the very specific color grading bouncing the show from candy-colored Hollywood satire to a drab, Roy Andersson-style drama. It’s refreshing in thematic sequence, if not quick to make the audience prone to whiplash.

For most mainstream audiences, the appeal for LADY DYNAMITE probably comes in the involvement of Mitchell Hurwitz. His twisty, absurdist style helps create a world, and in turn, an individual. His love of puns and long running, over-developing visual gags are in full form here, though serve a greater purpose: juxtaposition. Maria would have a dinner date at a restaurant called “Aseriacene” (pronounced: A Serious Scene), or be replaced by a child or baby lamb mid-scene. Even Hurwitz’s weird lampooning of Asian culture makes an appearance, along with generally relevant satire, especially on African child soldiers. These jokes, perplexing as they are, play as metaphors, portraying the stresses of life running around the human mind, but it all comes together only because of Bamford.

Maria Bamford’s creative handle is so raw that the jokes can often be overshadowed, with her performance especially drawing the most attention. Granted, she plays her own unique self almost as a straight man to other great weirdos in the cast, like Bridget Everett, Fred Melamed, Ana Gasteyer, and so many others filling in roles like zany mad-folk. Yet with Maria alone, along with her eccentric humor, she brings real stories and real feelings. Her time dealing with mental breakdowns is ultimately portrayed as a human fact, giving the audience full view upon a human heart and mind in the process of being hurt and mended. The show never verges entirely into either the sad or the comedic for too long. Bamford takes her show and dives cannonballs into both pools, just to quickly rush out of one and get back into the other.

A couple episodes in, after LADY DYNAMITE’s constantly moving parts create a recurring structure to be experimented within, the show often reaches surprising points of beauty. It gracefully glides through feelings of catharsis, discomfort, and most essentially, hope. With each episode/story told, Maria either learns a lesson, or is at least within earshot of one; close enough can be good enough. It’s a cornucopia of ideas, jokes in many forms, and themes that often overflow or are more scattershot and excited than most free form jazz, but by the end, the picture is zoomed out enough to see the coherency of the piece as a whole. Maria Bamford presents the show in the sense of extending a hand, admitting it’s okay to be struggling. In the tradition of stories giving us a chance to understand life better, or perhaps enjoy it more (as paraphrased by Tolstoy), it wouldn’t be a curse to hear LADY DYNAMITE’s closing song’s lyrics by Dean Martin a couple more times over a laughably poetic final image, crooned out like a finalized amen — “I don’t know what I’m doing, more than half of the time.” Thank Maria Bamford for the reminder that it’s okay.

Verdict: Recommend

LADY DYNAMITE is available in its entirety on Netflix

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