Maria Bamford has toiled too long in, relative, obscurity. Beloved of the alternative comedy scene for decades, the height of Bamford’s visibility thus far was the series of Target ads in which she starred in 2009 and 2010. Now, with Netflix’s Lady Dynamite, Bamford has the showcase she has long deserved. She does not disappoint; the show is brilliant.
The show, based on Bamford’s life, was created for Bamford by Mitch Hurwitz and Pam Brady. Fans of Arrested Development will recognize Lady Dynamite as Hurwitz’s work immediately in the show’s rhythms and surrealist sensibility. The show is, as fans of Bamford’s standup will know, based upon Bamford’s life, her struggles with mental health, her insecurities with friends new and old, her love of pugs, and the challenges of show business. If the premise described sounds a bit typical of semi‐autobiographical sitcoms about comedians, you need not worry; Bamford, Hurwitz, and Brady are quick to break the fourth wall and amp up the weirdness, the beautiful weirdness.
The show takes place in three separate periods of its main character’s life: the height of her success, when she is shilling for an ambiguously evil big‐box store called Checklist; time living with her parents in her hometown of Duluth, MN, in the wake of a nervous breakdown; and her return to Los Angeles and show‐business following her recovery. Bamford, who suffers from bipolar II disorder in life and on the show, makes her struggles with the disorder the centerpiece of the show, mining the professional, social, and romantic difficulties created by mental health issues to great comic effect while also recognizing very real pain. This is not to say that the comedy is offset in any way by abject sincerity, Bamford and the creators are allergic to a serious moment that isn’t stymied with a joke, but the show feels like a very funny woman working through her issues by brilliantly utilizing her craft.
In addition to the tremendous work done by Bamford in the lead, the supporting cast is phenomenal. Mary Kay Place and Ed Begley Jr. are Maria’s loving but continually confused parents; Lennon Parham and Dagmar are the best friends who love Maria but hate each other; Mo Collins is Maria’s toxic childhood friend; Ana Gasteyer, June Diane Raphael, and Jenny Slate are a trio of women named Karen Grisham, Maria’s agent, realtor, and life coach respectively. All are great but standing above them all is Fred Melamed, the sublime character actor, who plays Maria’s loyal but incompetent manager, Bruce Ben‐Bachrach. Melamed’s first scene, in which Bruce’s metal‐tipped cowboy boots have an unfortunate run‐in with his glass‐topped desk plays like classic Arrested Development and makes one wish that Melamed and Hurwitz had come together earlier.
Fuller House notwithstanding, Netflix has become a home for great comedy as a purveyor of both standup specials from some of the most talented comedians working and scripted comedies from some of the weirdest and funniest talents in the game. Were it not for Bojack Horseman, Lady Dynamite would be the best of the Netflix bunch. As it stands, it’s the best new comedy on “TV” right now.