SPOILER ALERT: Do not read unless you have watched the entirety of Season 2 of “Lady Dynamite,” which premiered Nov. 10.
“Lady Dynamite,” which debuted its second season on Nov. 10, is one of the most adventurous comedies on television — a multiple-timeline, self-referential, fantastical journey through the fractured experience of comedian Maria Bamford. Much of the show focuses on Bamford’s mental illness, bipolar disorder. But the second season offers a brutal, hilarious satire of making a TV show for Netflix — a retelling of Bamford’s own experience making the show, told through the lens of her unique experience.
Like the first season, the second season is also split into three timelines: The past, where Maria (Maria Bamford) was a highschooler in Duluth; the present, where she’s negotiating cohabitation with Scott (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson); and the future, where she’s making a TV show about her own life, titled “Maria Bamford Is NUTS!” for a new streaming service called Muskvision. (The Muskvision logo looks quite like Netflix’s.) In the first episode, Maria and high-powered producer-manager-agent Karen Grisham (Ana Gasteyer) meet a robot named “Don, Jr.” to get their season greenlit; it scans them with an impersonal light and then grants them a series order, saying something positive about algorithms. Karen, who lured Maria into the idea of a TV show with the promise of a doggie-based crew and a “red blazer of power,” gradually expands her own role into the main creative vision for the show. Susan (Mo Collins), Maria’s old frenemy from Duluth, shows up on the set and manages to insert both her character and herself into the show. Andy Samberg is cast to play Bruce Ben-Bacharach (Fred Melamed), even though the former has a restraining order filed against the latter.
With the success of the show — driven partly by the fact that Karen insists Maria use her “business voice” at all times — Maria starts to learn more about Hollywood, and discovers the cabal of women that secretly run Hollywood, joined by Jill Soloway, who encourage her to get breast implants because being objectified is feminism. Later on in the season — after Susan turns “Maria Bamford Is NUTS!” into a space opera starring a cyborg? — Maria realizes that all of the Muskvision shows are a plot to awaken the Hive Queen (Mira Sorvino). But before the audience has time to process that much, the entire future timeline is revealed to be in Maria’s head; she contemplates the red power blazer and the doggie-crew, and decides against it. In “Lady Dynamite,” “Lady Dynamite” never gets made.
Variety spoke to Bamford about the parody of making TV in Season 2 — and how she would like children’s hours if they greenlight a Season 3 of “Lady Dynamite.”
You have some very specific personalities in Season 2. How real were those people like Karen and Susan in your actual life?
Well, I am a passive-aggressive person. What I like to do is to complain later under my breath about everyone. Or do a different voice — do an impersonation of them on stage for years on end, without actually telling them how I feel. The better thing would be to actually tell somebody, Oh! Guess what? I feel this about this. Instead, I seem to tell a thousand strangers. That’s a little grandiose. Let’s say 300 strangers.
I’m not a writer on the TV show, which means that sometimes it’s not always my sense of humor. It has been fine, just because, it’s a group experience. They let me do some things that I’m sure they didn’t want to do, and vice versa.
I got to say some things that I didn’t like about the first season in the second season, and that was very satisfying for me. I was delighted that I could do that. The behemoth of show business — of something rolling over you — is true. At least for me. I thought I would be this giant hero. One example I’ve been thinking about: I’ve been an extra many, many times. Extras are the most maligned population in Hollywood — besides the 100,000 people homeless living on the street. The point is, they’re not always treated well. So I thought, it’s going to be different on my production. And then, oh my god. I can barely keep up with what my job is and then trying to manage how others are being treated. My husband played an extra. He called me from a hot van — 100 degrees, no air conditioning. He’s like, They won’t let us get out of the van. And I’m like, I can’t right now. I’m doing this other thing.
I completely missed the mark. Just really bailed. On my own husband! I was unable to act as a good leader. At that moment, I felt anxious about whatever I was doing at the time, which of course I can’t remember. Not as an excuse — but it is surprising, how easy it is to be a jacka–. To be extremely selfish, and to not be caring for other human beings when you are at the top.
So, I think some of those characters are me. That whole thing where [Karen is] driving two Teslas at once. The insanity of how much people, even myself, do. Why am I doing a show about mental illness, when part of treating mental illness is to lower the stress in your life? 15-hour days! I am putting my own health at risk! It’s very hypocritical. I felt like the writing staff did a good job of expressing that part of things. If there were a third season — which we don’t know of course — I would ask to write on it, and to have children’s hours. Really: To have a 10 hour day, ‘cause I can’t do it. Even if it’s only for three months — It’s too much for me. If some other people can do it, that’s OK, other people can do it. If i’m not able to do it then I can’t and it’s OK. The super sad part for me was that — there were some moments of fun but I was so exhausted that I can’t remember a lot of the shooting. That’s not so great.
Was that part of the reason why Maria, in the show, decides not to do it?
Yes. Just not being sure if I could deal with it again. It’s confusing. I love being part of a creative thing and it seemed like people had a great time making it. It seemed like a really fun job, and I enjoyed that part. I enjoyed the performances. I was so tired. Stand-up is a great job for me for a reason; it’s that I get to sleep 14 hours a day, and it’s really wonderful in that way for me — which is embarrassing, but true.
Today I just said no to a voiceover [job]. I’ve always thought of money, property, prestige. That’s always the answer. That’s always what you want to take. I’ve always erred on the side of always doing the thing. That seems to be the group think. Of course you do it! Of course, you become a beloved Christmas Target character for years. Of course!
I had a friend who did commercials, and he was offered a lifetime role like that. You’re going to be the underwear guy, and we love you, and it’s doing so well. He was like, “No.” I thought he was such a dumb-dumb at the time. But then you go, well, life is short. I don’t know if that’s what I want my life to be about.
And you feel like such an idiot. The whole thing where I keep saying no to Judd Apatow — which is sort of art imitating life, or life imitating art. There are these things that come up where it’s like, Are you kidding me? Of course she’d go do that! And it’s like: I can’t. I’m too tired. Or, I want to see my friends. I want to go to Norway.
The big break. It doesn’t seem as that important anymore. When I see people who are extremely famous, extremely prolific — they are hustling so hard, and doing such a beautiful job, and enjoying it, enjoying the pace. That’s not the case for me. I’m not an extrovert who’s energized by more chaos. I know that that’s a real energizer for some people who love it, just have a wonderful time. I wish that for myself, but it’s just not in the cards, it seems.
But then I still have the human, lonely, I want to matter and belong and still be asked. It’s so dumb. You can’t have both, I’m at the top of my game and I want to sit around a lot more than other people.
Can you talk about Maria’s decision to get breast implants?
I know, as a woman, I totally utilized whatever sex appeal that I may have had. I benefited from being a certain type, as a young comedian. I just know that was said in some reviews — oh and she’s good-looking, you know, whatever. How sad is that? Why does that have to be a part of anything? It certainly isn’t a part of reviewing men at work. A lot of things that I’ve been cast on, they’ll always put giant padded bras on me — which I just think is hilarious. Does that really add to the character? No, it’s important. This is about development of their personality and it feels like their personality has big breasts. They’re not a double A, they’re definitely a B cup. You can hear it in their voice.
I did want to do the nude scene. That was my request. I love the idea of just doing nudity for comedy’s sake. I’ve seen some male nudity for comedy, and it made me laugh so freaking hard. I hope it came off as funny. It’s hard for me to watch it, so I don’t know if it came off as funny. I hope I haven’t creeped anybody out. I feel proud at least I was trying something. I never have to do it again. I’m sure I will not be asked.
Is that scene hard for you to watch, or “Lady Dynamite” in general?
Oh god. Yes. In general. It’s hard. I’ve heard from other people, that’s relatively normal. Hard to watch yourself. To be honest, I haven’t watched past episode three yet. I’m taking it in very slowly. I was there, so I know what happened. I’m taking it in very slowly, and celebrating it as I go with my husband. He’s watched the whole thing, he binge-watched the whole thing. I feel that way about my comedy specials, too. I don’t need to watch it, I was there!
[The show] is personal. Some of the things are very personal. The storyline about us getting married; the storyline about my having a difficulty with my friends. All those things — and the Susan character — there’s some reality beneath it. So, ugh, It brings up some things.
I get a little anxious about the language. Language is pretty intense in the show. Lots of swears, which is fun! But I go, ugh. My dad’s going to watch this.
And not wanting to be disrespectful to my family — my parents. I worried that the relationship was too mean between the parents — my parents weren’t that hostile to each other. It was a lot more passive-aggressive. It was a lot more Midwestern, where nothing is said. But that’s harder to play in a sitcom — just the silence. So, I got worried about that. They were OK with it.
It was really exciting to be a part of a group making a vision. I really enjoyed that, and I love working with Mo Collins, and Ana Gasteyer was just a dream come true. And all the animals, oh my god, how could you not? I want to work with animals all the time.
That’s how Karen, in the show, gets you to do “Maria Bamford is NUTS!”
Oh, my god. I love that speech — where it’s like, Everything’s gotta be green. The entire camera’s going to be biodegradable. That’s the dream! On my production, there’s going to be recycling, and everyone’s going to feel good. ‘Cause I’ve been on plenty of productions and felt terrible. Not welcome. It’s a very isolating industry. There’s lots of pressure on actors who are there for one day, or extras. And yet, nobody’s talking to you. It’s a very isolating experience. I wanted to make an asterisk, to not be that way. I hope it was better. But you’d have to ask anybody who worked on it.
You have all these plans. It’s really hard to steer a massive ship the way you want. Especially if you don’t know how to run the ship at all. I don’t know anything about how the ship runs! For me to be bossy and go, I really want to be this way — And to have no idea about budgeting. It’s absolutely ridiculous!
It depicts a really sympathetic portrait of having a genuine artistic impulse going through the machine of Hollywood.
It all goes to hell!
You can see that Maria gets to a point where she has no idea whether the show is going to be good or not anymore.
I can relate with that. Sometimes I’ll be doing something in showbusiness. I’ll go: I’m earning, I’m willing to earn. I want to be bringing in income. And yet, oh god. I hope this isn’t adding crap in the world. It’s so confusing. I was a kid. I watched hours of television by myself. And I love TV. But also part of TV was very isolating — and very probably, on some level, didn’t help my mental health. I’m very confused about even television! But also. I’m grateful. It’s a good job. I’ve also enjoyed secretarial work? But I’m not the best at it. It’s not my gift. [Laughs.]
Why Elon Musk’s Muskvision? Or the algorithm box?
You’d have to ask Pam [Brady] in the writer’s room about that. At least for me, it seems like Netflix is a mystery. Nobody knows how well anything is doing. They’re buying so much content and paying very well for it. What’s going on? I hope Ted Sarandos knows what the numbers are. How hard was that, to keep secrets like: Bulgaria! It’s a cash cow. Bulgaria just loves “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” It is insane! Everyone is watching that show! Really weird, valuable information.
They seem cool with you teasing them on-screen.
They’ve been nothing but super nice. No pressure — no publicity pressure either. Nobody prepped me going, “You got to say this about it, and this about it.” There is no filter on me, which is really a relief for somebody who’s a loose cannon anyways. I’m sure that’s how they are with everybody. It’s been delightful. I don’t know if there is a dark side, but I’m so excited to find out what it is!
They were such a great team, the writers. Both years. The first season was a little rough for me. We went to so many lengths to make sure that I could rest. They made me a batcave — a cave on set, like a covered tent, that I could go into between takes. Which made a huge difference. It was very caring. They made a huge effort and it really made a difference. Still, I think I was too tired. It was a little dumb how tired I was — to nobody’s fault, ‘cause I’m on some heavy psych meds and that’s just is how it is. The struggle is real, as they say in much more important issues.
The confusion your character has on set in this season, it’s both painful and so funny.
Andy Samberg is just like: She’s terrible. Which is, of course, my worst nightmare. Everybody who’s on the show was such a pro. Knew their lines, hit their marks. I sometimes could just barely remember the next line. It’s so sad. I did an OK job. People are just amazingly good at their jobs, and I’m grateful.