Maria Bamford is your favorite comedian’s favorite comedian, so unafraid of going into wild absurdism in search of jokes that she sometimes seems not to be joking at all. On the new Netflix series Lady Dynamite, she plays “Maria Bamford,” a woman whose pasted-on smile never fades. When Maria improvises a rant about the Holocaust-pondering philosopher Hannah Arendt at a network sitcom gig, she is convinced she nailed it, yet the room is wincing. It’s all a matter of perspective, and both real and fictitious Marias bear uncalibrated social compasses. Bamford has long joked about her real-life struggles with bipolar and obsessive-compulsive disorders, and Dynamite does more than depict her pain–it gives itself over to instability, with jarring lows and zesty highs. In our heroine’s ill-advised quest for stardom, everyone she meets appears to speak with similar overexuberance. Looking only on the bright side, she ends up blind to reason. Seeing the world through Bamford’s lens isn’t always easy, but that she brings us along so assuredly is worth applauding.
This appears in the May 23, 2016 issue of TIME.