By Alexa DiFilippo
As I walk to my desk in any class, I usually am thinking about one thing, food (mac and cheese bites usually), and if not that, then what show am I watching later that night. Don’t get me wrong, I pay attention but sometimes I will see a friend walk by or someone will text me something funny. To be honest, it takes something special for me to have my entire undivided attention on it. And so the story begins. It was a sunny day about fifty degrees out and I walked into my Television Criticism class. As I usually do, I take my backpack off, take out my notebook and computer, then my jacket. Then I wait to see what my professor has in store for us. On this day, my professor logged onto Netflix and had the class watch a show I had never heard of called, “Lady Dynamite.” Seeing as though I had never heard of it, I did not think much of the title; boy was I wrong. When I usually have never heard of a show, I usually try to give that show a fair shot. I have found some hidden gems on Netflix like “Hemlock Grove” and “Frontier”. However, “Lady Dynamite” sounds exactly like the main character, truly is.
So, who is this lady of dynamite all about you say? Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves here. When my professor pressed that play button to start the pilot episode, I had no clue what I was in for. Who even is Maria Bamford? Is she a starlet like Paris
Hilton? Is she married to an athlete? Is she one of those individuals who have completely gone over board with plastic surgery? Is she a millionaire? Is she a fashionista or Maxxinista? Is she a real housewife? I could not have been more wrong. She is a little blonde woman with a huge, hilarious imagination. That same little blonde woman in the first episode, who seemed like a complete weirdo to me, strung me along and I went home and finished the entire show in one sitting. I am productive! Anyway, Maria Bamford is a comedian who utilizes awkwardness to her advantage like no one I have ever witnessed before on a show. Maria highlights unorthodox topics in ways that have never been shown to me through a television screen (or computer who are we kidding here).
“Lady Dynamite is the story of Maria Bamford played by the actual Maria Bamford! This Metacom series follows Maria’s Hollywood career in the past and present. Maria tumultuous relationship with her career was the nail on the head of her mental breakdown. However, with the help of her parents and her outrageously funny friends she starts to view life with a positive attitude! Maria does seem to get better and feel better about herself but she does not turn her back complete on her mental illness. She uses comedy to send her message of mental illness. Maria’s offbeat humor goes hand and hand with the not so easy topic of battling mental illness in the spotlight.
Yes, she uses humor to make the message not so sad but it is just as powerful. Maria is displaying that being famous is not all the glitz and glam, it is actually difficult physically and mentally. However, she does not just limit the box of “only celebrities have it tough.” “Lady Dynamite” allows the audience to laugh at a not so laughable topic, which as a person who battles mental illness, I find refreshing. For example, when Maria turns into the “Sassafras Lady” or when she goes off her meds after her egotistical agent, Karen Grisham tells her too (Pugs not Drugs is hilarious) and Maria feels “recharged.” To even the closing song that is beautifully sung, “I don’t know what I’m doing, more than half of the time” which goes so well with Maria’s offbeat kooky qualities. She talks about her mental illness by using humor but it is through Maria’s perspective and not others. No one else is telling her personal story of her experience. Often when you see mental
illness it is in dramatic setting in a show. However, Maria Bamford uses her mental illness in the show as if you are experiencing with her. When she is with her parents she turns into a little girl for example. The show has the viewers disoriented and feeling a bit anxious with the visuals to get an entire sensory to get a glimpse of what it is like to have a mental illness. Maria Bamford’s ways of displaying mental illness aids to the destruction of the kind of tense and negative stigma mental illness has is that, you can go through those bad times and have your triggers but with the right help and support from your loved ones, you can in fact make it and live a fun life (and the support of two incredibly adorable pugs)! Just because a person has a mental illness it does not mean that they have to suffer for his or her entire life. I commend Maria Bamford for being open about her mental illness, sharing her story and showing the public that it does in fact get better. Using comedy for such a topic can seem a bit in poor taste to some but the way Maria puts everything out there and does not hold back, makes me as a viewer, realize that she knows what happened to her, she has internalized it and eventually has gotten over it so she can laugh at it (though not everyone can laugh about his or her mental illness journey).
Yes, I admit I have my issues but I too try to use humor to get through it because it is quite therapeutic in a sense. Crazy to think like that? I know. To me, I feel as though the show “Lady Dynamite” is therapeutic for not just Maria Bamford, but for myself. I have never seen mental illness shown on television or any platform like this before. She has her issues but she does not let them stop her, yes they may get in the way but, she battles on with the help of her family friends and cute pugs who sometimes talk to her. She is not afraid to speak about her mental illness and being hospitalized and uses humor to squash the stigma. If you or anyone you have ever known has battled with or is battling with mental illness, you may know that it is one of the hardest events and times in a persons life for not only them but for the people around them. No one wants to go through what it is like to have a mental illness and no person wants to see someone they love and care for go through it either. In all honesty, I am not sure why more people are not talking about “Lady Dynamite”; the show is so unique it should be in its own category under the title “phenomenon.” No autobiographical about Maria Bamford would touch Maria Bamford’s comedic portrayal of her own life… I think what Maria Bamford is doing on “Lady Dynamite” and its message is revolutionary!