(Maria Bamford) (Photo: Netflix)

“I stop with my hands! Which means I’m on an adventure!” Maria warns the coffeehouse crowd early in “I Love You.” Maria’s wheeling out of control, and not just because she’s on rollerblades. She spends the whole episode trying to establish boundaries, then crashing past them or letting other people smash them down. Bracing herself to break up with Chad (Adam Pally, playing his role with zeal that’s equal parts infectious and obnoxious), instead she lets him speak first. His “I love you” sends her spinning; from the viewpoint of his GoPro, the world tilts around her.

Advertisement

“I Love You” is all about establishing and respecting boundaries, but almost no one in it knows how. Chad uses Maria’s OKCupid profile to court her as a client, not a lover. After his sudden death, his grieving family welcomes Maria with open arms. Though she’s known Chad “for but a month,” they invite her to give a eulogy. Chad’s colleague exploits the funeral to schmooze Maria seconds after she’s broken down weeping over the casket. Like Bruce and agent (not real estate agent) Karen Grisham, who position themselves as Maria’s best friends, the CAA agents use the language of intimate relationships—dates, dinner, “I love you”—to cement business relationships.

Preparing for an open house, realtor Karen Grisham catches Maria talking about “unloading” her home and takes her client to task with fearsome intensity. She thrusts Maria against the counter in a passionate embrace, coaching her in a whisper that’s conspiratorial, seductive, and terrifying all at once, and sealing it with two firm, loud kisses. June Diane Raphael plays the scene so close, her nose visibly distorts Bamford’s cheek. It’s jarringly intimate.

Maria’s friends and family have terrible boundaries, too. Aroused by a Cirque Du Soleil show, Maria’s parents gush to their daughter about their “new ideas… sex ideas… with sex!” even as Marilyn warns her it’s best to keep feelings bottled up. Marilyn inserts herself into the conflict between Maria and Susan, telling Maria, “Talk to Paul: No more art.” Susan conflates business and friendship and holds Maria accountable her husband’s choices, billing her for the hours of productivity Paul (Mike Fotis) lost by losing himself in his art.

Advertisement

Even Maria, who’s so enthusiastic about boundaries, blithely crosses them. She ignores common sense and social cues, and not just with Chad. Stumbling upon Graham (Dean Cain) during her open house, she squeals in delight when he mentions sadly that he’s going through a divorce. Early in their romance (and seconds after discovering he’s recklessly irresponsible with money), she invites him to be her tenant. Cut to Maria later that day, hiding in her shower and screaming into a sponge.

Instead of trusting her instincts about breaking off with Chad, Maria justifies herself to Dagmar with escalating lies. She spins a tale of a tantrum, adding damning elements until she’s describing Chad viciously shooting a trio of puppy scientists about to unveil a cure for cancer. Dagmar’s eyes narrow as she picks apart the story. “Wait, where did the puppy come from?” But Maria insists on her version: “It was like a veil lifted and a monster was there!”

In the restaurant where she’s planning to dump Chad, Maria breaks boundaries again, burdening her waiter with too many details about her plans and her problems. “You know, I wasn’t there, but that story sounds pretty definitely made up,” Brian (Paul Elia) replies, illustrating how easily Lady Dynamite invests even minor characters with personality and humor. Mixologist Garlopfft (K. Harrison Sweeney) is another example, and his repertoire of sugary mocktails—Devil’s Sugarbowl, Grandma’s Candy Store, capped by Brian’s improvisation of Glass Of Sugar—also effortlessly portrays the passage of time.

Advertisement

I haven’t written much about Dagmar and Larissa because in most episodes to date, they (very effectively) spice up exposition rather than directly engaging with the plot. But Bridget Everett and Lennon Parham give these characters depth despite being disconnected from most of the action. Dagmar’s steady, quiet hatred of Larissa is as funny as her moments of naked fury, and Everett makes that loathing fit seamlessly (and hilariously) with her compassionate, knowing advice to Maria. In “I Love You,” Lennon Parham shows off her knack for physical comedy, walking away from Dagmar’s outburst with calm dignity, then creeping back in the background. Rather than relying on surprise, this scene only got funnier on a second viewing, enhanced by anticipation.

(Bridget Everett, Lennon Parham, Maria Bamford) (Photo: Netflix)

“I Love You” showcases Bamford’s ever-present physical-comedy skills: cringing from Karen Grisham’s embrace, rolling on the kitchen floor and stroking her cheek against the stucco as she talks up her house (and herself) to Graham. But of all Bamford’s bits of physicality, my favorite is simply watching her run from place to place. It must be the favorite of someone behind the scenes at Lady Dynamite, because every episode so far has featured a scene of her scampering uncertainly toward or away from the camera. The fictional Maria may not know her boundaries or her best traits, but the Bamford playing herself knows exactly how to play to her strengths.

Advertisement

Ironically, it’s past Maria—the Maria of the Duluth timeline, where she’s recovering from crisis—who’s best with boundaries. When Marilyn pressures her into crushing Paul’s blossoming artistic spirit, Maria says, “Susan can talk to him, he’s her husband.” Instead of withering under Susan’s scornful “Everybody’s depressed, Maria. It’s called being an adult,” Maria tells her levelly, “That’s the saddest thing I ever heard.” Maria’s bad at establishing boundaries, but her history shows she’s not hopeless at it—and hope is the hallmark of Bamford’s endearing tone.

Stray observations

  • Today in Lady Dynamite signage: The banner behind Chad’s casket reads Dudus ubi capulum meum, or Dude, where’s my coffin?
  • Jon Daly shows off his understated side as Chad’s brother, Thad. The casting for Lady Dynamite is so exciting and note-perfect, I find myself wishing—impossibly—that almost every part could become a recurring character.
  • How many Supermans is Maria going to date?
  • “It was like a nightmare. He told me he loved me.”
  • “… I love you, too.” “Fuck yeah, you do! Let’s get up this hill like a tiger!”
  • The sepia-toned flashback to the batting cages show how thoroughly Maria took Patton’s advice to heart.
  • “I’ll microwave you some taq-oohtuitoooh… I’ll microwave you some taquitos, GET IT RIGHT, MARIA!” reads like an outtake that some genius decided to include in the final cut.
  • “But you have a Jaguar!” “Thank you! Actually, I have two. Three, if you count the third one.”
  • I’ve been doling out the episodes slowly for these reviews, so I don’t know yet how the season ends. Like Chad’s ab tattoo says, you’ve just got to live in the moment.

Advertisement