The first season of Netflix’s “Lady Dynamite” was groundbreaking for its portrayal of mental illness, with comedian Maria Bamford at the center of it all, playing an exaggerated version of her pug-loving, slightly unstable and lovably awkward self.
The show follows Maria, a fictionalized yet biographical version of Bamford, who, after returning to Los Angeles from a Minnesota mental hospital, must resume daily life and continue to build her stand-up career post-mental breakdown. Maria is a protagonist who is easy to root for, with a kind demeanor and a forgiving and often bizarre sense of humor that only Bamford herself could believably bring to the role.
Season two, released Nov. 10, carries through with many of the absurd and chaotic themes of its predecessor, but on a less dramatic note. This much-needed departure from the seriousness of the first season allows viewers to gain a better sense of Maria’s character beyond her mental illness, and it’s both hilarious and heartwarming.
“Gone are the season one flashbacks of her crumbling mental state and time spent in a mental hospital.”
This season, Maria is in check with her “mentals,” the term she uses to describe her diagnosed slew of mental illnesses – including bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression. Gone are the season one flashbacks of her crumbling mental state and time spent in a mental hospital. Instead, they are replaced with flashbacks to teenage years in Duluth, Minnesota, and flash-forwards to future scenes of an autobiographical show that Maria is filming for a Netflix-like streaming service (sound familiar?).
Maria struggles the most this season with being in an adult relationship. As a 40-something-year-old woman, Maria finds herself for the first time in a serious relationship, living with her giant, scruffy boyfriend, Scott (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson). Last season, she came to terms with herself and who she is as a person – mental illnesses and all – but now, with someone else in the picture, she must learn to adapt, compromise and share her home. Together, aided by Maria’s talking, German-accented, advice-giving pug, Bert, they take on Scott’s questionable financial decisions and Maria’s love for feeding the neighborhood feral raccoon.
The show is as meta as ever, continuously breaking the fourth wall. At one point, Maria even calls out the problems with the first season (“Why so many blow jobs?” and “The race episode. Written by an entirely white team of writers”). One of the first scenes of the season involves Maria running around naked, attempting to avoid the pixelations that cover her upper and lower halves. It’s a humorous move, but one that also brings into question Hollywood’s restrictions on nudity.
Guest stars add an additional comedic element to the show, with new appearances by Andy Samberg and David Spade, as well as returning guest characters, like the foul-mouthed super agent, Karen Grisham (Ana Gasteyer), or the exuberantly unhelpful life coach also named Karen Grisham (Jenny Slate).
The season continues with the humor and self-awareness established in the first season, while continuing to draw on important issues. Although it’s important to focus on mental illness – and season one often broke through the comedy to show the grittiness of a mental breakdown – it’s also important to note that a mental illness does not define someone. Through eight episodes, the audience gets to explore the complexities and hilarities of Bamford outside of her mental illness, and these – both low and high points – in her daily life make for a hilarious second season.