I've already cleared my calendar for the weekend of May 20, because I cannot wait to marathon Maria Bamford's Netflix series, Lady Dynamite. You may not recognize her name (although something tells me that's about to change soon), but Bamford will look familiar to Arrested Development fans — she played DeBrie Bardeaux in Season 3. Since then, she's starred in her own special (appropriately titled Maria Bamford: The Special Special Special) and had a recurring role on Louie. It's about time that Bamford be given the spotlight and her new series will do just that. The Netflix synopsis states that it's "inspired by her own life," but how closely is Lady Dynamite based on Maria Bamford's real life?
Lady Dynamite places a strong focus on mental illness and this is very much inspired by Bamford's own experiences. As reported by USA Today, Bamford's decades-long battle with depression and anxiety culminated in what she's described as a mental breakdown in 2011. Like her character, she spent time in a psychiatric unit — an experience which she described to the outlet as, "very funny in retrospect" but not quite so amusing while she was actually there. The series will depict her character's experiences in the unit, as well as before and after the hospitalization. But, her onscreen persona isn't a mirror image of the real-life Bamford. She explained to USA Today that, "I'm definitely more shy. I don't spend as much time with people as I do on the show."
When Bamford was approached by Mitch Hurwitz (the creator of Arrested Development) about doing her own show, she knew that the story she wanted to tell was about that breakdown. As she explained in an interview with Vulture , "That is an experience I had, and I'd be totally into telling that story." The show combines surreal sequences with reality, but not every aspect of the reality-based scenes is autobiographical. In the same interview, Bamford emphasized that the story and emotions of her character draw from her own life but the show itself is "super loosely biographical." She used her dating life as an example:
Like, the way I am when dating, is totally not me. I am not that cool or relaxed at all. Those are the things where it was, like, for the nature of time and creating a story arc, well, you've got to eventually have a date. It's like, "Oh no no no, that would take me so down and dark and into a thousand thoughts." But there's not enough time in one episode.
We can expect plenty of the plotlines to be fictional, but the overall concept of what it's like to recover from a breakdown and live with a mental illness is very much Bamford's story — and it's an important one to tell.
Image: Doug Hyun; Saeed Adyani/Netflix