“I’m a 45-year-old woman, who’s clearly sun damaged. And I have a show! What a great late-in-life opportunity,” Maria Bamford declares in the pilot episode of her new Netflix series, “Lady Dynamite,” before taking comedy fans on a surreal journey through the biggest issues facing the world today.
Mental illness, racism, drug addiction, and the meaning of family are all brilliantly examined through Bamford’s absurdly silly and incredibly smart lens throughout the 12-episode first season of the show – which was created by Pam Brady and Mitch Hurwitz.
Bamford has always been very open about her personal experience with bipolar disorder and how it affects her life and relationships, and she continues to do so with this project. By using cleverly-executed time jumps, “Lady Dynamite” is able to provide viewers with the full scope of her journey back to comedy by cutting between her mental breakdown, her recovery, and her present day success with creativity and control. Where lesser series crumble underneath the weight of such a heavy premise, Bamford has managed to create a delightful – and hilarious – retrospective on the stigma of mental health, as well as the difficulties we all have relating with the world around us.
This concept is most apparent in the incredibly funny pilot episode, which finds Bamford installing a bench in front of her home in order to bring her neighbors closer together. Naturally, things go awry, but the originality of the story is fresh, funny, and somewhat hopeful in the way that she finds her community. The first episode also cleverly pokes fun at the now cliché idea of a comedian doing stand-up in each episode as a device to hammer home the theme (i.e. “Louie,” “Seinfeld,” “’Inside Amy Schumer”) through hilarious dialogue between Bamford and her “Comedians of Comedy” co-stars, Patton Oswalt and Brian Posehn.
Each subsequent episode of “Lady Dynamite” is richly layered – like the method-acting style of guest star, Mira Sorvino – with high-concepts, hilarious jokes, real-life drama, and silly storylines that find laughs in the most unexpected places. The distant-past/not-so-distant past/present formula gives deep insight into Bamford’s character – a friendly people-pleaser with a penchant for going a little mad sometimes – and allows viewers to connect with her in a way that has not previously been seen in a comedy TV series.
Bamford absolutely shines as the lead actress of the show, but her co-stars also provide big laughs at every turn. From Fred Melamed as her codependent manager to Bridget Everett and Lennon Parham as Bamford’s BFF frenemies, to Ed Begley, Jr. and Mary Kay Place as her well-meaning parents, “Lady Dynamite’s” cast is arguably the funniest group of actors ever comprised for a modern comedy. Sarah Silverman, Tig Notaro, Jenny Slate, and Dean Cain also add to the hilarity with guest roles.
We live in a world of endless entertainment options, but “Lady Dynamite” proves to be a binge-worthy show full of intelligent plots generously seasoned with unbelievably original comedy. Stream “Lady Dynamite” on Netflix today and be sure to pick up tickets to see Bamford do what she does best when she returns to perform stand-up at the Athenaeum Theatre in Chicago on Aug. 19.