Lady Dynamite Is the Most Ridiculous, Realest Show on Television Right Now

Photo via Beth Dubber/Netflix
Photo via Beth Dubber/Netflix

Maria Bamford, playing one of the versions of herself that she does on her absurdist/earnest Netflix series Lady Dynamite, befriends a raccoon during her show’s second season premiere. She cooks elaborate meals for it and invests so much into her relationship with it threatens to come between her and Scott (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), the boyfriend she just moved in with. In the end, the raccoon produces a human voice and sits around with his fellow raccoon friends, talking shit about her (it turns out he doesn’t actually like her cooking—he ate it so he didn’t hurt her feelings).


Elsewhere, during the three episodes Netflix made available for review ahead of today’s release of all eight Lady Dynamite Season 2 episodes, her pair of pugs form a sporadic Greek chorus, a 16-year-old Maria spies on her dad (whom her mother suspects is having a gay affair) with a giant VHS camcorder, Judy Greer plays a bookkeeper who can’t recognize the number 7, an animated Jiminy Cricket-esque “acting bug” bites a young Maria mid-number, giving her the confidence she needs to nail a rendition of Godspell’s “Day by Day,” and Maria is invited to a Hollywood Ladies Club, led by Transparent creator Jill Soloway, which derives its powers from “guys jacking it.”

Clearly, Lady Dynamite, which was co-created by Pam Brady (South Park) and Mitchell Hurwitz (Arrested Development), has lost none of its fearlessness or flair for the ridiculous. At times in its first three episodes, in fact, Season 2 threatens to wrap its reality around itself in a manner not unlike Kroll Show. As it did in Season 1, Lady Dynamite zips across multiple timelines. In addition to the present, this time we’re treated to Duluth in 1987 (when Maria was 16) and the future, which finds her working on a binge-able streaming series, Maria Bamford Is NUTS, for Netflix cognate “Muskvision.” She plays a version of herself (playing herself) with a pronounced difference: She’s contractually obligated to speak in her husky “Diane” voice (which seduced a character played by Brandon Routh during an episode last season) while on set. Her parents on NUTS are played by her actual parents, playing her show parents (Mary Kay Place and Ed Begley Jr.) playing her actual parents.

So layered and self-referential is Lady Dynamite that describing a single facet of the show can generate a paragraph’s worth of explanation. Lady Dynamite buzzes with energy that begs to be described as “manic”—a large portion of the first season focused on Bamford’s real-life diagnosis of bipolar disorder and how it affected her stand-up/endorsement career. This show is never just one thing: It’s a sitcom, an audio-visual memoir, a dramedy, an expose of the cruelty of showbiz, a meditation on loneliness, a clear-eyed assessment of the foggy complications of bipolar disorder. The comedy, driven by Bamford’s reliably virtuoso showing is physical, satirical, absurdist, self-referential, scatalogical. It’s nonsense, it’s socially conscious. Its multivalence is key to its head-twisting sensibility, but it’s also what makes the show so damn real—life, too, is never just one thing.

Bamford is, as she was last season, backed by an incredible supporting cast. Ana Gasteyer, as her agent-turned-showrunner, is particularly astonishing and gets so many of the best lines (“Your story will be told with such tenderness and attentiveness that we will end women’s homelessness,” she assures Maria in the planning stages of NUTS; while on set she tells an extra, “Cheryl Streep, your sister Meryl can go Florence Foster fuck herself”). Lady Dynamite is an endlessly quotable, nonstop delight. The show’s first-season episodes ended with a kind of tagline/jingle meant to reflect the perpetual unlearnable lesson provided by any given episode. Clipped from an old Dean Martin song, a falsetto chorus sang, “I don’t know what I’m doing more than half of the time.” It summarizes the show’s delirious appeal well—not knowing what one is doing has rarely seemed so brilliant.


Cherith Cutestory

This show forces me to utter words I never thought possible. I hope Mark McGrath comes back this season!