I have a problem with a lot of television comedies these days. I just don’t find it funny to be mean to each other. When the worst traits of humanity are the gag, it’s so tiring. Take for instance It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Lots of folks seem to like it. I simply can’t get into it. Yes, I get that it’s satire. I get that it shows humanity at its often worst. But, in my opinion, laughing at these people normalizes and excuses such behavior, instead of enlightens us about how such behavior is wrong. We become inured to the pain of others.
Oh, and the less I say about South Park, the better. I’ve watched only a handful of episodes and just don’t enjoy it.
Obviously these shows are popular, and it’s me who is out of step with our current zeitgeist. I just prefer comedies like The Good Place. Sure, Eleanor started out an Arizona trash bag. But, over time she evolved and became a better person. All the characters did. It elevated the comedy to watch people who were each bad in different ways striving to become better human beings (or demons, or construct who is the font of all knowledge but not a girl or a robot). Give me more comedies where people change over the course of the show and don’t remain the same selfish, narcissistic, scheming assholes they start as.
Thus we come to We Are Lady Parts, which is definitely more Good Place than it is Sunny in Philadelphia.
I’d seen a trailer for We Are Lady Parts and thought it looked promising. And, to sum up before I get to any spoilers: it’s even BETTER than the trailers. It’s well written, beautifully acted, and features some incredibly loud and so-terrible-it’s-good punk rock that I adored. Come for four wonderful actresses perfect for their roles, and stay for the soon-to-be-a-smash-hit punk anthem “Bashir With the Good Beard.”
Spoilers ahead. . .
The show focuses on Amina – played by Anjana Vasan – a microbiology PhD student who also teaches guitar to children in her off hours. She’s adorably geeky, averse to public attention (more on that in a moment), and desperately seeking a husband. Which, that’s a choice. She’s chosen to live a more halal Muslim lifestyle than her parents, who are relaxed and freewheeling (and a complete delight; her mother – actress Shobu Kapoor – consistently manages to steal every scene with delicious humor). She’s recruited into the band when she mistakenly shows up at their audition for a lead guitarist because she’s attracted to the brother of one of the other band members. Over the course of seven all-too-short episodes, she has to overcome her intense dislike of public performance to forge a new path for herself along with the band mates she becomes friends with.
Did I say “dislike of public performance?” I meant “gets violently ill and vomits and/or farts uncontrollably.” Her shame at this is both funny and touching, as well as something I can relate to, at least a little. Vasan brings a buoyant humanity to the character, who can be at once a bubbling cauldron of squeaky excitement as well as an internal bundle of neurotic worry.
The other four band members are equally well played, each dealing with their own balancing of being a woman, being Muslim, being punk rockers, and all the other things they are. Sarah Kameela, who plays band founder and lead singer Saira, is particularly well suited to her character, the kind of woman whose currents run deep and who struggles with her emotions. She even has her own punk manifesto, which describes the band as “sisters who pray together, play together, speaking our truth to whoever can be asked to listen.” They’re beautiful characters, complex and nuanced, and the humor is well balanced by seeing their struggles with their complicated lives. And each approaches their religion differently, which is fascinating to see and an education all in its own right.
And the music. Oh, the music! All of the actors play their own instruments competently, giving the music a rough, amateur quality. This is not – with some exception for Vasan who is definitely a decent guitarist – skilled musicianship. But that’s the tradition of punk. Raucous and loud, angry and defiant, it fits the measure of these women who are navigating a world that fails to understand them from multiple directions. Or sometimes understands them very well indeed. And there’s one hell of a cover song mid-season the band performs at a bar filled with old white men you absolutely don’t want to miss, it’s brilliant.
The plotting, while traditional in its arcs (people meet, they learn how to work together, they become friends despite their differences, an obstacle arises that tears them apart, but in their darkest moment they come together once more to overcome it), suffers not from how much it leans on those beats. Maybe it’s the nontraditional characters and the unique background, or maybe it’s the sparkling dialogue, but I never once found my attention drifting, despite knowing what would (probably) happen.
All in all, We Are Lady Parts was exactly the balm I needed. Touching, hysterical, wonderfully acted, beautifully scripted, and well paced. A FEEL GOOD comedy for a change, not one filled with mean people doing mean things to other mean people. And frankly, we need more of that in our lives. We spend way too much time wallowing in the nasty, tawdry lives of those who are literally nothing like most of us. These women are far more human than most characters in comedies, and worth your time and attention.
The only negative about this show is it’s on Peacock, NBC’s streaming service. The first episode is free, the rest you need to pay to watch ($4.99 a month with ads; $9.99 without ads). I wish Netflix had gotten it, but I decided it was worth a one month subscription to see the whole season.
On the Reynolds Wrap-up scale: 10 out of 10 for We Are Lady Parts. Come for the humor, stay for the humanity. And the very loud, very mediocre, very amazing and perfect punk rock!
Now sing it with me: “Bashir with the good beard!“