(Mary Kay Place, Maria Bamford, Ed Begley, Jr., Mo Collins) (Photo: Netflix)

“I’m cured!” Maria tells her family after two weeks of music therapy. “I feel it in my gut!”

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Uh-oh.

Mental illness messes with your head. But it can also mess with your gut by upending your instincts, shaking your certainty. Even after a crisis passes, it’s hard to trust your inner voice. Maria Bamford—the fictionalized Maria Bamford of Lady Dynamite and the real Maria Bamford, who speaks so frankly on stage and in interviews—has to learn to trust her gut and find her voice all over again. And that’s okay.

“Bisexual Because Of Meth” poses some worst-case scenarios, then shows that even the worst case is rarely that bad. When her father struggles with stage fright in the wings of the Duluth VA, Maria asks, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Joel imagines a series of unlikely disasters: He pukes into his drums, the public humiliation tanks his dermatology practice, Marilyn leaves him, he dies alone.

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The actual worst case is much less dire. The small audience nods approvingly as the Bamdford Family Bamd With Susan launches into “Minnesota Rockin’”:

We got corn-fed women, farm-girl sinnin’

’Bout to drive you out of your mind

Hay-balin’ fella gonna take you to the cellar

Give you what you’re aching to find

If you want to know where to go

Head on north to the land of snow

Minnesota rockin’, Minnesota rockin’

In the middle of their triumphant first song, Maria’s mania—and her delusion of a miraculous recovery—deserts her. “I’m not cured,” she mumbles, face on the floorboards. “I think I need more help, Mom.” The worst case is some embarrassment, an abruptly cancelled concert, and a member of the audience chiming in with Marilyn’s “loving doxology.” And a return to therapy, because recovery is a process. But it isn’t a person’s defining characteristic.

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In the present, Maria gets a lesson in defining people by their broadest traits when her blind date greets her, “So, Larissa says you think you’re really funny and you have a lot of mental illness?” She and Shane (Josh Casaubon, 30 Rock’s handsome EMT) connect—and Maria craves connection—over their parallel experiences of mental illness and drug addiction, and especially the way people pigeonhole them. “I am not my illness,” Shane says with gentle confidence, and Maria drinks it in.

This intense, immediate affinity shakes her confidence instead of reinforcing it, because Maria tried to cancel this date, only capitulating to Larissa’s—sorry, Lala’s—tantrum. (“You know what, today just might end with me having a peanut!”) What other opportunities has she missed, she wonders, because her gut steered her wrong? She questions everything from her decision to take it slow with Shane to her rejection of an ultra-violent, hyper-sexualized Pussy Noodle ramen commercial. And she’s wrong, over and over.

“Bisexual Because Of Meth” (written by Theresa Mulligan Rosenthal) tries to have its meth and smoke it, too. It parodies Americans’ amusement with the excesses of Japanese entertainment even as it gleefully exploits those tropes. It pokes fun at Maria’s facile misunderstanding of Shane’s sexuality, but it also paints Shane as a blithely voracious bisexual stereotype. “No judgment,” Maria says, but she is judging Shane. Even after they bond over being diminished by labels, her fantasy talk-radio conversation wraps up with Convenient Devices’ host Jean Bart (Mary Birdsong) warning, “And use a condom. He is bisexual. And the meth, Jesus Christ!”

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Maria isn’t the only one confused by Shane’s sexual and romantic relationships. When she tosses out their waiter (with her characteristic blend of ferocity and sweetness: “Get out! But, uh, take care”), she thinks she’s saving Shane from himself. She thought he was only [drum roll] “Bisexual Because Of Meth.” Shane’s appropriately confused response: “What? What does that even mean?”

Nothing. It means nothing, just like Shane’s nonchalant remark to his put-upon boyfriend Gabriel (Craig Frank) that he can’t be cheating with Maria. “She’s my woman relationship. I’m bisexual,” Shane tells Gabriel.

In the past and the present, Maria’s a pushover: for Karen Grisham (Ana Gasteyer), for Larissa, for Shane, for work, for friends. She trusts everyone but herself. Gabriel shows her what trusting your gut and finding your voice looks like. “Shane, you stupid fuck!” he says, “I don’t give a shit if this is a man or a woman or a stupid fucking Samoyed Husky mix.”

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Gabriel’s the best-adjusted, most grounded person in “Bisexual Because Of Meth”—and in Lady Dynamite so far. He’s angry to find Shane cheating with Maria, and even angrier to hear she interrupted him getting blown by another man minutes earlier. (“Barely,” Shane defends himself, “he had just gotten started.”) Without hesitation, Gabriel announces, “I deserve more,” and he challenges Maria to value herself highly, too.

Present-day Maria (and the viewer) knows she was wrong to place her trust blindly in Karen Grisham, that Hollywood shark, or Bruce Ben-Bacharach, that bucket of chum. She needs to trust herself over anyone else, “and that is scary!” Maria’s learning that the only way to trust her gut is… well, to trust her gut, mistakes and all. Lady Dynamite knows you don’t have to be pitch-perfect to sing your heart out.

Stray observations

  • Today in Lady Dynamite signage jokes: It’s a tough call, but with its animated arrows, Switch Hitters’ neon just edges out Aseriacene and Joo-Ruhn Studios for the top slot.
  • “They want you to be the face of their new campaign and they’ve assured me many, many times it’s going to be much more violent.”
  • A hint, in case you needed one more, that Bruce Ben-Bacharach might not have a deep bench: He has two identical client photos—is that Andy Kindler?—prominently displayed in his office.
  • Larissa: “Isn’t that what everyone wants?! For me to stop breathing?!” Dagmar: “Yes!”
  • In the Duluth flashbacks, Mo Collins’ broad, often abrasive presence gives Maria’s kindergarten friend a bittersweet note. Susan is almost like a daughter to the Bamfords. She barges into the house, ribs Marilyn and Joel, borrows their tools. She reminds Maria of childhood humiliations and teases her about her breakdown. Marilyn clings to Susan, drawing her into the family meeting and asking her to wrangle Maria at her most manic. Susan and Marilyn even sport very similar hairstyles. It’s not just that she acts like a daughter; in this fictional world, Susan might be the daughter Maria imagines her parents wish they had.
  • “To quote them exactly, they said they hate everything about you. They hate your humor and your physicality and your stupid fucking face.” Feedback like that must make it hard to trust your instincts, but Bamford’s physicality in the Duluth driveway scene—kicking, growling, readying those cymbals—had me wincing and cackling.

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