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Lady Dynamite leans into Hollywood sexism, mostly on purpose

Maria Bamford (Screenshot: Lady Dynamite)
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Larissa and Dagmar have felt a little short-changed this season, because that’s how Maria’s treated them since Scott moved in. But by casting Lennon Parham and Bridget Everett as Maria’s closest friends, Lady Dynamite guaranteed that even their smallest gestures are rendered into character-specific glimmers of comedy.

Even when the script calls for them to do nothing, they make it into something. In the opening of “Goof Around Gang,” Parham’s blank look before she remembers she’s Maria’s assistant (and has been since the very first episode) shows the same surprise that another actor’s spit-take might. With comic ease, she sells Larissa’s sudden acceptance of the man she’s previously dismissed (twice!) as an inevitable rapist, laughing even as he snatches away Maria’s attention just as the two women begin to reconnect. “I see why you spend all your time with him! He’s a romp!”

Maria’s trouble integrating a full-time partner into her life without neglecting her friends has been building since the premiere. Scott barely knows Maria’s best friends or he’d know calling in these two to tackle a nuts-and-bolts matter like evicting a raccoon from the house would end with axed-up hardwood floors and “peanut-butter titties.” But they’re great at giving him advice on living with Maria, and at kindly revealing her peculiarities to her new partner.

Maria Bamford, Bridget Everett (Screenshot: Lady Dynamite)

When the writing does give one of Maria’s best friends an emotionally significant scene? Wow. Bridget Everett generally plays Dagmar with a bluff, broad zest that looks like invulnerability. But when she reveals how hurt she’s been by Maria’s absence, Everett’s emotional openness feels honest, intimate, and utterly unguarded. “I know I act all tough and shit,” Dagmar says, setting aside her usual bluster, “but my friends mean the world to me. And I only have two of them.”


Ending Dagmar’s moment of vulnerability with her waving off Maria, instantly forgiven, to sort out her problems with Scott feels awfully glib. It’s a curious lapse for an episode that calls out its heroine for slighting her female friends for her boyfriend and tackles show-biz sexism in two different timelines.

(Screenshot: Lady Dynamite)

Scott’s unintentional scene-stealing in the cold open is both clever foreshadowing and a callback to his fondness for tension-breaking pantomime like the backwards smoker. The audience at Laundernauts—the same crowd that cheers 17-year-old Mikey J’s (Taj Speights) unpolished, low-effort bro comedy but clear out before 25-year veteran Maria Bamford can take the stage—assume Scott’s silence is a daring comic innovation, not a novice’s tongue-tied panic. As Larissa chimes in the instant Maria mentions stand-up, “Men are way funnier than women, anyway!”

Maria and Scott continue to, as different characters keep repeating this season, “do the work.” They spur each other to big insights. They congratulate each other on those breakthroughs. They resist the temptation to take on each other’s pet projects and coping mechanisms, and they reward each other for the honesty and courage it takes to say so. But “Goof Around Gang” slights Maria’s relationship with her friends even as it calls her out for doing the same.

Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (Screenshot: Lady Dynamite)

Maria’s big insight in “Goof Around Gang” is that she’s not upset because Scott’s too busy for her, or because he’s suddenly passing on unsolicited advice on her lifelong career from his teenaged mentor. (“I’ve been doing it for 25 years and I realize, yeah, that’s what I need! A 17-year-old male perspective,” she shoots back.) She’s mad and sad because she wanted him to learn first-hand how hard stand-up comedy is—and how special she is for doing it well.


Scott already knows she’s special. (The way Scott gazes at Maria, and Ólafur Darri Ólafsson looks at Bamford, continues to warm my heart.) But in past and present, Maria’s desire to be seen as special makes her susceptible to less heartwarming, more earth-shattering temptations. In her Grisham-dictated future, Maria is summoned to the Hollywood Ladies Club, where the masked assembly of power players greet her as their messiah.

Jill Soloway (Screenshot: Lady Dynamite)

Unmasking, leader Jill Soloway reveals that Maria’s unique “vulnerable sexual energy,” fueled by her mental illness, can mean ultimate triumph for the women of Hollywood. With the combination of “that sad puss of yours” and a boob job (“Huge breasts for the revolution! I’m talking about something that’s going to hurt your back”), Maria can maximize the power women have long extracted from male objectification (“dudes jacking it,” Soloway clarifies) and free their hive-queen Ranlith from the core of the earth, where she’s resided for millennia in a fiery prison.


This isn’t the first time Maria’s been cast as a literal messiah, or the first time she’s found it perilously seductive. When Susan, star of Walter Mondale High School’s 1987 production of Godspell, breaks her leg 10 minutes before curtain, Marilyn forces her daughter to ascend from the lighting board to center stage, where young Maria shuffles and mumbles her way through the first few bars of “Day By Day”before being bitten by the acting bug.

Maria, messiah (Screenshot: Lady Dynamite)

That’s a literal cartoon bug, like a maniacal Jiminy Cricket. He appears to Maria on-stage and grants her a previously untapped genius for singing and soft-shoe. (Dubbed-in singer who growls the f on “Follow you more nearly,” I’d like to shake your hand.) He also bestows upon her unwanted thoughts syndrome, including the compulsive fear that she’ll chop up her family, have sex with the pieces, “then rub them on your naughty bits. Naughty bits! NAUGHTY BITS!”



I said just yesterday that it would be premature to presume that the glitchy, split-second time jumps in Maria’s future are a sign of an oncoming manic episode. What a difference a day makes.


The more dramatic those disorienting flashes of lost time and fluctuating camera focus become, the more they become paralleled with what appears to be the onset of a troubling psychiatric syndrome, and the more Scott worries about long hours destabilizing her routine, the clearer it becomes that something is dangerously out of step in Maria’s future. Add in her belief that she’s “the chosen one,” and it begins to sound like grandiosity on a manic scale.

So far, this season has shown Maria stable and happy and coping with happily mundane challenges. It’s one of the great triumphs of the second season, and I hope it lasts. But as cheerful and funny as it is, “Goof Around Gang” plants the suspicion that Lady Dynamite is playing slow-motion peekaboo with an approaching crisis.


Stray observations

  • In three episodes, Maria’s taken two showers without muffling her screams into a sponge. That might be a record for Lady Dynamite.
  • “Larissa’s a fucking nightmare. She either hates my guts and calls me a raper or she thinks I’m an adorable puppy she wants to hug to death.” “She means well. She is a horrible assistant. I could fire her. I will, I will fire her.” Happy re-birthday, Larissa!
  • “Goof Around Gang” fudges a little by making “Day By Day” a solo for Jesus. But are you going to begrudge the savior a solo, even if she’s just the savior of the high school drama club?
  • I dearly, clearly loathe Godspell, so thanks, writers, for breaking up the episode’s third rendition of “Day By Day” with a Jesus Christ, Superstar-style riff between Marilyn and Joel.
  • Bamford’s reaction shots are always a rich array of silent joys, but the piercing squint she directs at Bruce after he declares a lot of his “prize mares are on the way to the glue factory” is especially sustained and wonderful.

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About the author

Emily L. Stephens

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Emily L. Stephens writes about film, television, entertaining, gender, and cake. A lot about cake, really.