I want to get something off my chest. Bo Burnham’s special is fantastic, yet for all those genius moments I was left with a strange sense of disconnection and mawkishness as the credits rolled. The special lingers still four days on from watching it, leaving me with a nagging feeling that either I was watching someone coming completely apart at the seams or a ridiculously good actor whose emotional range sucker punched me right in the gut. Either way, Inside is a pure distillation of 2020/21 in a bottle.
My major key feelings watching the show was that for all the drowned man aesthetic on display Burnham was toying with my emotions, teasing apart my empathy for being locked inside while presenting songs that are catchy as hell. There are moments of pure genius, and White Woman’s Instagram is infinitely repeatably for millennials, the sort of song that is both call out and side smile knowingness. Yet, all the emotional knives in the back are always ready to press home just as you find your bearings. Much like Covid-19.
Part of me really wants to tear down Inside for making me witness to Burnham’s personal slow motion car crash write across my screen. Yet, this is precisely the mawkish emotion that Burnham seems to be aiming for. Making us complicit in his disintegration, that we are the ones tear small pieces from him one atom at a time. His talent dissects us the viewer as much as he does himself, making us complicit in his decent into whatever Covid-19 circle of hell he finds himself in.
Yet, for all this disintegration Burnham is genuinely funny. Unlike other Netflix specials that rely on the traditional comic/audience dynamic, Inside switches things up, and in doing so invites a glimpse of appointment television on the smallest possible human scale. Burnham achieves a level of dark humour that makes us all complicit in his personal decent into madness. Yet, for all the amazing songs there is still this lingering mawkishness that I cannot shake.
Burnham’s mental health is referenced heavily throughout the special, to the point that there probably needs to be a trigger warning about ideation. Mental health issues are a comedy staple, and often the best comedy flows from this pain. Yet, by framing it as Burnham does as one person ‘trapped’ in a room what usually seems funny on a big stage suddenly feels voyeuristic and complicit. It as if he is daring us to watch for one more sketch, to see if the final destruction will actually happen in real time before our eyes. If his acting is cathartic for him then we are no more complicit than allowing him the space to explore and deal with his demons.
For all my mawkishness, I thoroughly recommend Inside as essential appointment television for the Covid age. It truly does have impact in the truest sense of the word, and while it is certainly not easy viewing at times it deals with mental health in ways that are brutally honest and, well, funny.