Prior to the opening credits of Lady Dynamite season 2’s first episode, the following events occur.
CGI birds fly down from heaven to place a sign bearing new name on star and creator Maria Bamford’s home, signifying another person now lives there. Maria rings out her hair post-shower into a cup to drink. A pug says the line “Why is she avoiding the pixelation?” Another pug responds “Because she is body positive.” A raccoon is fed a platter of sizzling fajitas.
Welcome back to Lady Dynamite, the most energetic and all-around bonkers comedy on television! And that’s saying quite a bit. In the time between Lady Dynamite season 1’s debut on May 20, 2016 and its second season (which will release all of its eight episodes on Friday, November 10), its mother network, Netflix, seemed to embark on a conscious effort to top the weirdness of its own creation.
These efforts have included an animated comedy about puberty in which wayward children are guided by the puberty monster and the ghost of Duke Ellington (Big Mouth), a mockumentary of the true crime genre where the only crime is the spray painting of dicks on cars in the teachers’ parking lot (American Vandal), and of course the hilarious comedy about a young billionaire who tries to save New York City with half-baked Taoist philosophies and white privilege (Iron Fist).
Now, as we near the finish line of 2017, Lady Dynamite returns and effortlessly snatches the “weird comedy” crown away from those pretenders.*
*Though Big Mouth and American Vandal are excellent and you should watch them.
Lady Dynamite season 2 continues the ongoing story of comic Maria Bamford (as portrayed, written, and executive produced by comic Maria Bamford) as she…well, just kind of tries to live. The real-life story of Bamford was little-known prior to the debut of season 1 and perhaps is better known now but still bears repeating. Bamford was and is one of the most successful and influential standup comedians of her generation but never quite latched on to a movie career or achieved full mainstream appeal.
That was partially due to mental health issues she had struggled with the majority of her life chiefly in the form of her bipolar disorder. By 2010, her mental state had deteriorated enough that she dropped out the public eye altogether and checked into and out of psych wards for the better part of two years.
So…uh…wasn’t I just talking about raccoons eating fajitas six paragraphs ago? That’s the beautiful thing about Lady Dynamite. Season 2, much like season 1 does not shy away from discussing Bamford’s unfortunate mental health history. On the contrary, the show leans into it and is in many ways about finding a way to balance one’s own joie de vivre with the fear of entering into another manic state.
Hell, in season 2, there is a show-within-a-show parodying the existence of Lady Dynamite itself called “Maria Bamford is Nuts!” It airs on Elon Musk’s future streaming service called “Muskyvision” that selects all of its shows via a faceless robot. One gets the sense that Maria is Nuts! could have been the show Maria preferred for Lady Dynamite before Netflix wisely convinced her otherwise.
The jokes in season 2 remain so relentless and disarming that there is barely enough time to process one before we’re on to the next zany adventure. Somehow though, despite the joke saturation and the kind of absurdist humor the show excelled at in season 1, there is also a clear serialized story of Maria’s life to grasp onto.
The Maria Bamford of Lady Dynamite season 2 is seemingly in a better place than the year before. Last year she nearly sabotaged a good relationship her her physically-imposing, yet gentle-hearted Icelandic beau Scott (Olafur Darri Olafsson) through her own fears surrounding intimacy. The beginning of season 2 finds them cohabitating and juggling all the very normal relationship issues (Scott is bad at finances! Maria is bad at trusting people!) that are hard enough on their own but become even harder when worrying about when the next major depressive or manic episode can strike.
There is actually quite a bit of Scott in season 2, which is a welcome development as he’s just so fascinating to look at and listen to. I know that’s a really childlike way of describing an actor’s performance and also completely objectifying but it’s also true. His enormous presence onscreen and in personality just hammers home how big a deal it is for Maria to accept another human being into her life.
Lady Dynamite’s “strangeness” was never exactly difficult to get fully into in season 1 as it teaches you from the start exactly what this will be and where it’s going. Its fractured timeline format, however, was jarring with the first few episodes. Season 1 alternated between the present and different points in Maria’s past as she suffered a mental breakdown as a spokesperson for a Target-esque corporation called Checklist and as she recovered at home with her parents in Duluth.
Lady Dynamite season 2 again plays around with timelines, only this time going even deeper into the past to Maria’s adolescence in 1987 Duluth and one year into the future as she shops and produces Maria Bamford is Nuts to Muskyvision with the help of her on again, off again agent Karen Grisham’s (Ana Gasteyer).
The transitions among the three timelines are again jarring at first but this time around the show benefits from having a past, present, and a future rather than a present, a past, and a past-er. Mary Kay Place reprises her role as Maria’s mom, Marilyn and comedian Kurt Braunohler steps into Ed Begley Jr.’s shoes to portray Maria’s dad, Joel.
The performances in all three timelines are uniformly excellent. Braunohler is a welcome addition and a perfect fit for Maria’s dad with his intense Midwestern-ism. Ana Gasteyer continues to be a revelation as an agent that is all id…and may in fact just be Maria’s id. Fred Melamed as Maria’s “other,” much sadder agent Bruce Ben-Bacharach is tragically underused through the first three episodes. Though the camera could be on him literally 100% of the time and I’d still think he was underused. He’s the absolute perfect utility player for a show like this and seems to have the strongest connection to Bramford and her showrunner Mitch Hurwitz’s sense of humor of anyone in the cast…shit, maybe anyone on the planet. He seems like a direct connection between Lady Dynamite and Hurwitz other comedy classic Arrested Development, despite him never have actually appeared on Arrested Development.
Performances aside, however, it’s the “future” storyline that is the most extreme introduction to the show and the most welcome. It’s responsible for the vast majority of the times I’ve overused “bonkers,” “madcap,” and “strange” in this review. Yes, the Maria Bamford of one year in the future is heading to Muskyvision. The parodying of the path of Maria’s life that led her to Netflix is meta enough. Lady Dynamite isn’t satisfied with just standard meta textual humor though. It has to be meta and stylistic far beyond the traditional bounds of good taste (and arguably good filmmaking).
The scenes in the future are almost literally nausea-inducing. Creator and showrunner Mitch Hurwitz (who is portrayed on the show as a beefcake obsessed with his own muscles) and Bamford have the cameras zooming in and out with the timing of a frantic heartbeat and the steady blare of dubstep in the background to match it. Maria’s experiences producing Maria Bamford is Nuts start out intense but then grow only stranger and more frenetic. Even just three episodes in, the future plot goes to truly dark, strange, and hilarious places that I wouldn’t even dream of spoiling.
Fine. Transparent creator Jill Soloway is involved.
After telling most of Bamford’s life story in season 1, season 2 had the opportunity to get more conventional but instead it doubled down on the intensity and weirdness and we should all admire it for that. Not only that, but Lady Dynamite helps to demonstrate just how thoroughly comedy on television is kicking drama on television’s ass.
I would never deign to say that Lady Dynamite captures the feeling of a manic episode. That’s shitty. Watching Lady Dynamite has never driven me to contemplate suicide or check myself into an inpatient facility like it has for Maira Bamford in her at times sad and dark history. But it is probably fair to say that Bamford’s experiences in mania and depression inform the wildly fluctuating tone and moods of Lady Dynamite in fascinating, artistically affirming ways.
Lady Dynamite understands wonderfully that any TV show can speak its truth and in any way that it wants…provided that it makes you laugh. And Lady Dynamite will for sure do that.