As with most streaming shows of late, at least the ones that try to be edgy (which means pretty much all of them), it takes a minute to process what you’ve watched sometimes. Such is the case with Netflix’s Lady Dynamite which so far tops the list of confusing and bizarre streaming shows.
Apparently though, the point is to be confusing and bizarre, as the series is supposed to reflect what it’s like inside of star Maria’s (Maria Bamford) mind as she copes with bipolar illness. The series also constantly jumps around to different time periods and the viewer never really knows when they’re supposed to suspend disbelief and accept that whatever is happening is supposed to be real, or if it’s just a fantasy in Maria’s mind.
It’s also very meta, as it’s a show on a streaming service about a woman with mental illness playing herself on a show about herself on a streaming service. See what I mean? The fictional streaming service is called Muskvision, which is seemingly a combination of Netflix and something that billionaire Elon Musk would produce, especially since the show within the show is sci-fi themed.
It might be something I could actually enjoy once I wrapped my mind around it were it not for the leftist humor, apparent obsession with incest, overkill of sexual promiscuity and perversion, and not-so-veiled hints at satanic themes.
The first hint of leftist humor came at the expense of God in episode 2, “Hypnopup,” because knocking belief in Him always seems to be top priority for Hollywood. Maria and her boyfriend Scott (Olafur Darri Olaffson) attend a Debtors Anonymous support group and one of the members, Em Bezzler (Judy Greer) asks if anyone in the group would hire her as a bookkeeper so that she can support her son and her dog.
Maria, who is in need of a bookkeeper, volunteers to hire her, and when Scott protests, she tells him, “It’s a sign. She’s available. That’s what you call a ‘God shot.’ Good Orderly Direction. There is no God, but God is spelled dog backwards.”
In the same episode, Maria flashes back to her childhood in Duluth, Minnesota, in the year 1987 when she was 16 and had just received her learner’s permit. Her mother Marilyn (Mary Kay Place) takes her out for ice cream to celebrate, then tells her she believes her father is having a gay affair. Worse, she wants Maria to follow him with a video recorder to catch him in the act.
Maria’s friend joins her on her stakeout of her father and makes supportive comments like, “It’s just so funny thinking about your dad guzzling man dong all night and then giving you a kiss in the morning.” And, “he’s probably getting his gay supplies for his gay date. They like night crawlers. And gerbils too.” After she tells Maria her dad is probably going to “dip a dick” in the ice cream he ordered, Maria says, “I have so much more respect for my dad now.”
Her friend then quips, “I wonder if your dad ‘humps free’ or charges,” then asks if she got her reference to Vice President Hubert Humphrey.
As it turns out, Maria’s father wasn’t gay. He was trying to escape from his wife for time away to himself. As he explains to Maria why, and how sad his life is, Maria’s friend tells her, “I bet you wish your dad was a homo now.” “Yeah, I kinda do,” Maria answers. “Maybe then he’d be happier.”
There’s another more benign presidential reference in the same episode, this time to Ronald Reagan in the present time, as Maria has a conversation with her pug (yes, there are talking dogs). Maria is wondering where her money has disappeared to and if it’s bad to distrust her boyfriend. Her pug offers sage advice: “Like Ronald Reagan says, ‘Trust, but verify.’”
Maria gets excited and says, “Maybe there’s a way to Gipper this!” She ends up seeking help from cub reporter “Cody Foster Wallace,” an obvious play on the name Jodie Foster, whom John Hinckley, Jr. tried to gain attention from by shooting then President Ronald Reagan. Funny, huh?
Religion comes into play (no pun intended) again in episode 3, “Goof Around Gang,” as the girl who is supposed to play the part of Jesus in Maria’s school play gets injured and can’t perform. When Maria's mom says she has an idea on how to save the play, Maria asks excitedly, "Mom?! Are you going to play Christ?!" Marilyn answers, "Sweetie, I play Christ every day. I'm a mother. No, I think I know how to turn this water into wine."
She ends up suggesting that Maria take over the role, which she does. While on stage, Maria gets help from a miniature, cartoon, acting bug that offers her some very disturbing advice before jumping in her ear and making her head tilt to the left while her arms are outstretched, which looks like a disgusting impression of Jesus dead on the crucifix:
Acting Bug: "Don't forget to kill your parents. Chop them up and then have sex with the little pieces. And rub them on your naughty bits. Naughty bits! Naughty bits!"
Umm. This is supposed to be funny, how?
Episode 3 also contains a surreal scene where Maria goes to a “Hollywood Ladies Club” meeting. The ritualistic and satanic overtones of the meeting are as equally disturbing as the leftist version of feminism presented by Jill Soloway, creator of Transparent and producer for I Love Dick, playing herself as head of the meeting. Which is another confusing moment since Jill Soloway claims to identify as “non-binary” and prefers to be referred to be singular “they” pronouns, but she plays herself as female in the scene.
The other women behind the masks and red robes at the meeting are supposed to be Angelina Jolie, Helen Mirren, Malala, Meryl Streep, Viola Davis and Cher. I wonder how they feel having their names associated with this scene.
Soloway: Maria, did you know that sexism is alive and well in Hollywood today? And to that we say huzzah!
Soloway: Sexism fuels us. It allows men to believe they're in charge of Hollywood. But actually, we are in charge of Hollywood. I am in charge of Hollywood. Have you seen "The Matrix" trilogy?
Maria: I have not. I keep meaning to, but I literally have no interest.
Soloway: Quick elevator pitch. They use humans for batteries.
Soloway: We women do the same thing. We get our power from a human source. Guys jacking it.
Maria: When enough power has been gathered, Maria, we'll use it to crack open the center of the earth and free our hive queen, Ranlith.
Maria: Hey, ho, say what's that now?
All chanting: All hail Ranlith! All hail Ranlith!
Soloway: This is where you come in.
Maria: What do I have to do with all this nonsense and nonesuch.
Soloway: Due to your mental illness, you have a, sort of, extremely vulnerable sexual energy. Men come after you for it. That sad puss of yours. Much like Neo in "The Matrix," you, my darling, are the chosen one.
Maria: Now I wish I had seen that movie. I'm just kidding. I don't wanna see it.
Soloway: Maria, I'm gonna wanna see you in a boob job. Huge breasts for the revolution, Maria. I'm talking about something that's gonna hurt your back.
Maria: Listen, Jill. I love you. You're a national treasure. But isn't a boob job contrary to empowering women?
Soloway: Damn it, Maria! That's exactly what the feminists want you to think. Listen to me, if women stop objectifying themselves, and men stop jacking off, our hive queen Ranlith is gonna have to spend the next few millennia trapped in her fiery prison at the earth's core and it will be your fault.
All: Ranlith! Ranlith!
Maria: Quick question. Who put Ranlith in the center of the earth and why are we trying to free her? Second question following the first. Have I gone insane?
Soloway: No, Maria. You've gone sane. I'm gonna validate your parking and then you're gonna go to sleep.
Considering all the male Hollywood powerhouses and actors being called out for sexual impropriety and crimes, including the star of Soloway’s Transparent, you would think such a scene would have been cut out of respect for those who have been victimized. Although it’s just a hologram, the vision of a man masturbating on the table in front of the women is disgusting and the idea that women would gain power from it, while women have been victimized by men in Hollywood masturbating in front of them in the real world…it’s just not even close to humorous.
Yet somehow an IndieWire feminist writer hailed season 2 of Lady Dynamite as “The Perfect Antidote for This Woman-Hating Garbage World.” Seriously? How can any woman celebrate a show that depicts women gaining power from men jacking off to them and sexually harassing them as being good for women? If anything, it’s a very strong and vivid reminder of the abuse women have faced in Hollywood, not an escape from it.
The obsession with incest in Lady Dynamite first appears in episode 4, “Fridge Over Troubled Waters,” as an overtly sexual brother/sister roller skating duo who can’t get enough of each other physically compete against Maria and her skating partner Bill. Maria later finds out, after making out with Bill, that he is her cousin.
Still, her mother encourages her to, “Blue ball the hell out of your cousin,” because Bill still doesn’t know they’re related and Marilyn wants them to win the competition by out-sexualizing the brother/sister pair. Maria’s father agrees with Marilyn’s advice and adds, “Do it for the family.” However, “Susan Beeber and her sizzling, fuck hot brother Justin” are announced as the winners, as they start heavily groping each other and kissing to celebrate.
In episode 5, “Souplutions,” Maria goes by herself to “couple’s therapy,” and the couple ends up being the therapists who are also twin brother and sister and they end up having sex in front of Maria after the sister says her brother has a beautiful penis. Finally, just to keep the numbers even (two brother and sister couples, but only one “oops, I kissed my cousin” scene), Maria ends up kissing yet another cousin unknowingly- her prom date in episode 8, “Little Manila.”
Sex jokes are rampant throughout the entire season and account for most of the attempts at humor. Maria’s agent Karen (Ana Gasteyer) makes probably 90% of the jokes as her character is an oversexualized pervert who gets off on making Maria’s show very “porny” as Maria calls it. She pressures Maria to do a three-way kiss with her male and female costars while filming her show by saying, “Let's set those tit rockets to motorboat because you are about to give an over-the-pants hand job to success and big bang out the next motherfucking Milky Way. Get back on that set and tongue kiss your best friend! Fuck yes! Come on!" She also exclaims at one point, “Someone put a white Bronco in my panties. The juice is loose!” Gross.
More leftist humor comes up in episode 4, as Maria interrupts a scene she’s filming to look at the camera and point out what she didn’t like about season 1 of the real Lady Dynamite.
Maria: Number one- Why so many blow jobs? Blow jobs are an art form and really deserve respect and character development. Number two- The race episode. Written by an entirely white team of writers. Yikes! Number three- The bisexual meth addict. Bisexuals are not promiscuous. It turns out, it's projection. I was a dirty bird. I ended up at the Hollywood Planned Parenthood where the diagnosis was, “How did you let it get so bad?” At the Hollywood Planned Parenthood, 1994. (wink)
Abortion got a mention in episode 6, “Apache Justice” as a casting agent mistook Maria’s abdominal pain for a pregnancy symptom and handed her a business card, saying, "Yeah, you should go see my guy at Cedars. He owes me one. Amazing doctor. Gwyneth's guy. Very discreet. And for the record, he doesn't do abortions. Though again, he's very discreet."
Episode 6 got its title from a role Maria lands on the show Apache Justice, and more digs at white people come up as Maria acts out her first scene: “I know the white man did not ask permission to build a well on your land,” and, “never trust white folks.”
There are more satanic overtures throughout the season as Maria’s mom asks her to play “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” on a red violin, and she believes their pet goat is a demon from hell when she has a nervous breakdown. At the end of the series in episode 8, Maria enters an elevator that falls through the center of the earth and lands on floor “666,” where she encounters Queen Ranlith trapped in a metal capsule. When Maria frees her, Queen Ranlith is shown looking very much like a female version of Satan and she turns on Maria, telling her the whole plan to set her free was a trap.
Like I said. Bizarre and confusing. How is any of this supposed to help destigmatize mental illness as Lady Dynamite is supposed to do? As a mother of a daughter who was hospitalized at the tender age of 14 due to depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicidal urges, as well as two other children who each lost a close friend to suicide, awareness of and help for mental illness is a cause close to my heart. I’m afraid, however, that Lady Dynamite and its off-putting brand of humor may be doing more to harm the cause than to help it.