‘Lady Dynamite’ Netflix Original Review
Lady Dynamite is a show you’ll want to watch as soon as possible. Starring Maria Bamford as a heightened version of herself, the twelve episodes of the first season (with hopefully more to come) cover the story of her life in three different time periods; her rise to fame, her mental break, and the present. The show is at once memoir and sitcom, and takes the entire genre of comedian-focused shows to new and wondrous places.
Maria (the character) is a comedian coming back to Hollywood following a quick rise to fame that culminated in a mental health crisis (involving a guinea pig). Surrounding Maria are her friends, Larissa (Lennon Parham) and Dagmar (Bridget Everett). Her family, sister Susan (Mo Collins), mother Marilyn (Mary Kay Place) and father Joel (Ed Begley, Jr.), is a mess of narcissism and good old fashioned midwest emotional disconnect. Her manager, Bruce (Fred Melamed) proves incompetent time and time again, but remains ever loyal to his client even when facing down a rival in Karen Grisham (Ana Gasteyer).
The core cast all help push plot points and round out the character of Maria. Bamford is humorous and plays her part perfectly in the show, but her real talent appears in her ability to share the spotlight. The show really shines in its use of guest stars, who are given some of the funniest lines, the most outlandish moments, and the one-liners that will undoubtedly live on well beyond the show.
From episode one the audience gets a feel for exactly how the series will play out. There are fourth wall breaks, joke call-backs, talking dogs, Sylvia Plath jokes, and hyper-specific takes on old sayings (“two pelicans with one Miata”). The show is fast, intricate, well-crafted, and absolutely hilarious. It asks the audience to pay attention in ways other entrants to the genre have not.
As this is a single-camera comedian-centric show, it is hard to avoid comparisons to similar shows. There’s Louie, which really reignited the show type, though its constant pessimism can make it hard to enjoy. Master of None, another Netflix Original, felt like a long form demo-reel of Aziz Ansari. Garfunkel and Oates is brilliant, but did not translate as well from YouTube to television. Lady Dynamite takes the genre’s standard format and gives it heart that feels more honest than a sitcom deserves.
The writing is sharp and smart as is expected from anything Michael Hurwitz (Arrested Development) touches. The second episode starts with a joke about Japanese commercials and it seems easy at first, but by the end of the episode the purpose of the opening scene is made clear and it is an oh so rewarding moment. The way the three time periods weave in and out throughout the series is done masterfully.
As the show is a memoir of sorts, Maria Bamford’s own experiences with bipolar disorder and depression give a hefty weight to the stories being told. The show approaches a number of very serious topics; race, boundaries, relationships, mental health but does so with humor. Unfortunately, it only does so through humor. When things get a little too serious, a pug will grab a guitar and start singing. Some episodes drag a bit, but there’s always something going on.
I am ready to binge the show again. There is depth here that will require multiple viewings, performances that need to be seen again (Ana Gasteyer steals every scene she is in, Brand Routh as Jack is amazing, Mo Collins is perfect as the jealous sister), and it is nice to take part in a show that is both difficult and approachable. The fourth wall breaks call out the genre’s tropes, the one-off jokes often made me pause the show to catch up (Foxcather Babies in episode 7; you’ll want to take a moment). Most importantly, the show focuses on an adult who needed help, went out and got the help she needed, and keeps working on maintaining a certain level of mental health.
The show is presented with heart not found anywhere else. You are going to love it. At one point Dean Cain, Superman himself, says, “holy sh*t!” and I want to make that my ringtone now. Wonderful show.
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