Maria Bamford is the cilantro of comedy: Either you love her and feel as though she could make anything better if given the chance, or you don’t understand what the fuss is about and think she tastes vaguely of soap. (OK, this isn’t a perfect analogy.)
Those of us already sold on her personal and deliciously bizarre brand of stand-up eagerly awaited the release of her new series, Lady Dynamite, on Netflix last week. But the show is meant to appeal to a wider audience than diehard comedy nerds; ultimately it’s about a woman trying to get through life. And who can’t relate to that?
Bamford is a comedian’s comedian. She’s a gifted stand-up who switches between mimicking her Minnesotan mother in one instant and performing a half-sung, half-growled melody about her therapist in the next. She’s neurotic, uncomfortable, and candid—an alt comedian’s dream. Bamford has done sets at The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail, appeared on Louie, and filmed an entire comedy special for Netflix with only her parents in the audience. No wonder people like Sarah Silverman and Judd Apatow are among her biggest fans.
Despite her prominence in L.A.’s alt scene, Bamford’s not a household name—yet. Her humor and delivery is specific and insular, which means it’s sometimes less relatable than, say, Amy Schumer’s. But that’s also the joy of it.
As with her last special, Lady Dynamite gives Bamford the chance to appeal to a broader audience, namely anyone with a Netflix account. But, importantly, it’s not just a comedy special. The season’s 12 episodes allow for the creation of a fleshed-out world of bold characters (Ana Gasteyer as the over-the-top Hollywood agent, for instance) that simultaneously manages an insider-y wink at sitcom clichés (thanks to some smart breaking of the fourth wall.)
Bamford’s struggles—with everything from mental illness to online dating—make for personal but deeply relatable viewing. And the cast of supporting actors, including Jason Mantzoukas, Patton Oswalt, and Tig Notaro, allow for even more reach.
The world that co-creators Pam Brady (South Park) and Mitch Hurwitz (Arrested Development) help create is weird, smart, and self-aware. Bamford puts it best in the first episode: “I’m a 45-year old woman who’s clearly sun damaged,” she says excitedly. “My skin is getting softer, yet my bones are jutting out, so I’m half soft, half sharp. And I have a show! What a great late-in-life opportunity!” We couldn’t agree more.