Maria Bamford’s new Netflix series Lady Dynamite is great. It is what Arrested Development fans have been craving for years now. The pilot is a bit all over the map, but once you get past the first episode, the series really takes off. It is funny, surreal, and like nothing you’ve ever seen. Seriously, there’s nothing like this. If I were to attempt to explain it to somebody it would probably go something like this: Lady Dynamite feels like an R-rated version of Arrested Development with a dash of Tim & Eric, and it has a consistently entertaining, dark, manic tone.
First of all, Bamford is a comic genius. Let’s get that out of the way up front. She is one of the finest stand-ups working today (not familiar? check out her experimental The Special Special Special in which she does stand-up for an audience of two: her parents), and she’s a great actress. Then you have Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz helming the project. Now add in a little Pam Brady (Hot Rod, South Park), and you have one really funny, smart show with tons of character. It’s dark at times, often very surreal, and always quirky.
The best way for you to get a good idea of the show (besides just watching it) is for me to describe a few scenes from the first episode. The pilot, though a tad shaky as I previously warned, does a pretty good job setting the scene. About halfway through the episode, Maria is approached by Officer L’Amour (Patton Oswalt) about the new community bench she has installed. He talks to her for a bit, tells her that she is going to need a permit, then breaks character to speak to Maria as Patton Oswalt,the real life actor. Patton tells her that she can’t have stand-up in her show because it is overdone and cliché; he cites Seinfeld, Louie, Chappelle’s Show, and Mulaney, with a visual gag/cameo from John Mulaney (SNL, Kroll Show) himself. Then Maria and Patton, now assuming the role of the comedy police, discuss Breaking Bad and the idea of using jarring time jumps in her show. They are abruptly cut off by a one-eyed pink teddy bear floating in water (a reference Breaking Bad fans will understand).
The show continues breaking the fourth wall like this while tackling issues such as race, representing mega corporations in nation-wide holiday ads, dating, and mental illness. And it’s surprisingly funny while taking on such dramatic topics. One of my favorite scenes comes at the end of episode two when a bearded Japanese woman shows up, causing the set to change. Maria and her bisexual former meth addict boyfriend are then revealed to be on a game show called “Pussy Noodle.” The host says, “Shane here wants to have Pussy and Noodle, but there must be a decision. Maria: will you offer pussy to Shane?” I don’t want to spoil her decision, but I will say it calls back to an earlier joke – not unlike an Arrested Development episode.
The show follows this surreal fourth wall breaking model while cutting back and forth between the dull “Duluth” sections in which Maria is living with her parents and attending out-patient psychiatric help, the “Past” where she is highly successful starring in big box store Checklist’s holiday ads, and the “Present” which sees her coping with life after commercial fame. Throughout all of this, Maria is joined by co-stars Fred Melamed (A Serious Man), Ana Gasteyer (SNL), Maria Kay Place (Being John Malkovich), Lennon Parham (Playing House), and Bridget Everett (Trainwreck) as well as guest stars including Mo Collins, Dean Cain, Jenny Slate, Adam Pally, June Diane Raphael, Jon Cryer, Jason Mantzoukas, and more.
If you like the Comedians of Comedy, Arrested Development, or even Tim & Eric then this show is for you. Many were disappointed by Arrested Development’s fourth Netflix exclusive season – myself not among them – but this show might just scratch that Bluth family itch. It’s not quite the same as Arrested Development, but that’s a good thing. Lady Dynamite certainly has a similar sense of humor as the aforementioned shows and is worth giving a shot for any comedy fan (especially if you prefer your comedy alternative). I give this show 9/10 sticks of butter or:
Joe Portes is a writer of Fiction and Essays, as well as a Creative Writing instructor in Upstate New York. He has edited literary journals and online magazines where his stories, interviews, and reviews have also appeared. His work has been in or is forthcoming in the Indianola Review, Pitkin Review, and Free George Magazine among others. Aside from writing for the Pop Culture Beast, he maintains a blog at JoePortes.com where you can read about everything from teaching college freshmen, to his love of podcasts, to playing video games.