It’s fairly obvious that web producers have less money to work with than television producers. And less money often means less time (since they’re often busy working on other projects that actually make money), less access to top equipment (though this is steadily changing as cameras a nd mics get cheaper), fewer talented actors to choose from, etc. Yeah, I know, boo hoo web producers, right?
But in terms of pushing the sitcom forward, fewer resources have actually forced web producers to cut back on all the flash and glitter that permeate TV and concentrate on the bare essentials of the genre. In the process, they’ve helped to unearth a core essence of the sitcom that’s long been buried and superseded by star power, absurd romantic situations, and a need to continue shows long past their prime.
Now, if I were forced to describe this “essence” of the sitcom that many web producers have dug up from underneath the multi-million dollar budgets of generic, prime time TV comedy, I’m not sure I could. Yet, I’m almost positive that The Maria Bamford Show has found it.
Maria Bamford is a Minnesota-based comedian that has enjoyed moderate success on the comedy scene. She moved to Los Angeles in the late-nineties as has since appeared in two Comedy Central specials, The Tonight Show, frequented various comedy festivals, and voiced characters in Tom Goes to the Mayor, Home Movies, Stuart Little 2, Lucky Numbers, and Tim and Eric Awesome Show.
Her new show, exclusive to Super Deluxe, is clearly based on her stand-up act, and centers around a comedian who has a nervous breakdown and is forced to move back in with her parents. Once at home, she starts making videos about her life in order to cope.
She’s the only actor in the series, yet there are still about six or seven main characters with distinct personalities, all created by her remarkable ability to inhabit different ages, sexes, and varying degrees of intellect, all through voices, accents, and mannerisms.
This episode entitled The Show demonstrates Maria’s gift of characterizations better than any since she’s gathered all of her alternate personalities in one room, and switches back and forth through quick cuts:
What The Maria Bamford Show exemplifies is how a single creative actor with an intentionally make-shift set and standard equipment, can create a thoroughly funny, enjoyable sitcom. There are characters you sincerely care about, and humor that seems more tangible because its crafted from Bamford’s insecurities, rather than some superficial or contrived plot twist.
Many of the jokes stem not only from the characters themselves, but also from how Maria chooses to act out the characters, what she chooses to exaggerate. In a Mother’s Day episode, Bamford tells her mom, “Thanks for letting me do less than accurate and highly embellished portrayals of you.” In another sketch she pokes fun at how her father always coughs and makes loud, throaty sounds before he speaks. Both instances are funny statements on how children see their parents (my Dad sneezes louder than God, btw).
And The viewer doesn’t care about the lack of costumes or sets; it’s one of the essential conceits of the show. You expect someone who just had a nervous breakdown to talk to herself and create weird artificial worlds.
So, Bamford’s successfully used her lack of resources to her advantage, and stripped the sitcom genre to its jimmies. Here’s to hoping she stays on the web for a bit before she becomes a big-bad TV star.