I watched the pilot episode of Maria Bamford’s new show, Lady Dynamite, which opens with a sassafrass lady having a sassafrass feeling, which involves stealing a bicycle and generally being manic while smiling at the camera, because she is *so* happy and excited about Latrisse DuVois Hair Care (By Gary). At the end of the commercial, Maria is told she should be shooting her sitcom and almost gets into the wrong white van. The episode jumps around between the past and the present, with the past being represented (about halfway through the episode) by a greyish filtered light. The present is more normally lit, and then there is something else – the inside of Maria’s mind, perhaps – which is vivid and bright with not quite reality.
Maria Bamford, the real person and comedian, has spoken and performed comedy about her mental illness, and here, she is trying to cope after being in a mental health care facility in Duluth. This is the part of the story that’s in the past. She is living with her parents and going to the facility as a day patient. We meet her “friend” Susan who undermines Maria at every moment. At the facility, Maria is crafting vision boards, gonzo style, while her counselor encourages her to express her anger, something Maria is loathe to do because she worries that he will be rejected. And when she does express her anger, she goes overboard!
In the present, she is being rejected by her neighbors. She created a vision board about community that included a park bench, so she installs a park bench, which almost immediately becomes a place for people to put trash, graffitti and birds to crap on. She walks around introducing herself to her neighbors (with her friends Dagmar and Larissa, played by Bridget Everett and Lennon Parham), and doors are slammed in her face. So it’s not going well. Maria’s manager, Bruce Ben Bacharach (played by he of dulcet tone, Fred Melamed) seems incompetent. She is courted by a shark of an agent, Karen Gresham (Ana Gastayer, amazing as always), but reluctant to hurt Bruce.
While all of this is happening, Maria is also supposed to be filming her sitcom, and she is getting warned by Officer Patton Oswalt to keep her edge, to not do stand-up. But she somehow gets caught up in a pro-gun rally with Mark McGrath, and in the end, her vision board about community around a park bench comes true, as the community comes together to destroy the park bench.
I’ve been reading a lot of folks who are comparing this to Arrested Development and Strangers With Candy – I can kind of see why, because these are all edgy comedies. But both Arrested Development and Strangers With Candy were grounded in a specific reality – in Arrested Development we had the terrible Bluth family who can’t help but do the wrong thing, in fact, the wrong thing may be the only thing they are competent at doing; in Strangers With Candy, the after-school special format with poor Jerri Blank who can’t help but learn the wrong lesson) but Lady Dynamite seems untethered to any reality. There are no round corners so far or safe spots, only edges.
I laughed out loud at the call back to Latrisse DuVois products (by Gary); Mary Kay Place and Ed Begley, Jr. are both terrific. I am now convinced that Patton Oswalt and Brian Posehn should make a cop buddy show. It’s a weird show, though. I’m not terribly familiar with Maria Bamford’s comedy (although I know she did a stand-up show just for her parents which seems so horrifyingly scary I am impressed with her bravery even without having seen it yet), but I can’t help but empathize with her character here. She does want to do the right thing, but she so mistrusts herself that she can’t even begin to fathom what that might be.