Lady Dynamite | TV review by Steve Bennett

Lady Dynamite

TV review by Steve Bennett

‘My show really looks like it’s finding its own voice,’ says Maria Bamford in a typical knowing reference at the end of the first episode of Lady Dynamite.

Certainly the show, 13 episodes of which have just landed on Netflix, could never be a traditional network sitcom. And not just because one of the characters drops the c-bomb. And because he says it in a psychiatric unit where Bamford is an outpatient.

The comedian herself has long been upfront about her struggles with mental health, and this doesn’t shy away from that. But nor is Lady Dynamite. a single-issue comedy that puts such topics above being a funny.

On one hand, it’s honest. Bamford plays the now-traditional ‘heightened version of herself’ – an over-40 ‘sun-damaged’ comedian struggling through he alienating showbusiness jungle of Los Angeles, shocked at the ‘great late-in-life opportunity’ of being given her own show.

But on the other it’s batshit surreal, starting from the hair commercial she imagines herself in at the top of the show – or at least hugely exaggerated: Ana Gasteyer as over-the-top agent Karen stands our in particular.

And on yet another hand, it’s got elements of traditional sitcom. Then plot of episodes one has her trying to get a bench installed for the community to use, and accidentally getting involved int a pro-gun charity.

But so-called friends are bitchy and self-serving, not the support group of traditional sitcoms, and the message of episode one for Bamford is that ‘love is never going to find me any time soon, or friendship or community.’ But she smiles optimistically as she says it.

The show jumps around in style and time, and makes it very clear it is doing so. Bamford tries out a few colour washes to identify the scenes in  before decided on a frigid blue to show her back in her home town of Duluth. Sometimes a narrative pops in – well, Arrested Development’s Mitch Hurwitz is also behind the show,and he loves the device, along with Pam Brady, who’s worked on South Park.

Patton Oswalt, playing himself, playing a cop called L’Amour, jumps out of character to tell Bamford: ‘Give your audience some credit. They can deal with narrative innovations. We’ve all seen Breaking Bad.’ And it’s advice everyone takes to heart, mucking about with the fourth wall or conventions of consistency, though it all still hangs together thanks to its confident quirkiness.

Oswalralso warns her about putting  stand-up in her show – she’s even planning the brick-wall backdrop.  ‘It’s been done so many times before: Louis, Seinfeld, Chapelle, Amy Schumer, my two pilots…’  he warns. Brian Posehn chimes in later with the same advice. He plays another cop - though he’s barely made any effort with the costume.

Lady Dynamite is strange and different and alternates between funny ha-ha and funny peculiar, just like Bamford’s stand-up. It embraces its idiosyncrasies and wears them as a badge of pride, rather than trying to sneak weirdness into a more familiar setting, à la Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

But the uncertainty of never knowing quite where you are with the genre-busting  show, as well as its sheer  audacity and ambition, makes it strangely compelling.

Review date: 20 May 2016
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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