Let’s all agree right now that asking someone what they “got done” in 2020 is a dick move worthy of public shame. Over a year ago, we all went to sleep and the sun rose on a world much worse than the one we’d known the day before, so glibly asking what someone did after that is not really a small talk kind of question. Bo Burnham did something in quarantine, though, and he wants us to watch it. Or maybe he doesn’t. Either way, his new Netflix special Bo Burnham: Inside is an amazing argument for why asking that question is loaded at best and emotionally horrifying at worst.
This special, written, filmed, and edited by Burnham over the course of 2020, takes place almost entirely in one room of his guest house, but the constantly transforming and claustrophobic space Burnham uses to stage his sketches isn’t only what the title means by “inside.” Bo Burnham: Inside is a devastating portrait of the actor-director-singer-comedian’s dysfunctional interiority and 2020’s unyielding assault on mental and social health. What begins as a project to pass the hours in a year when many people were forcibly gifted a lot of alone time transforms over the hour into an upsetting (in a good way?) musical recap of shared psychic trauma.
Burnham’s talent for using his charisma, character, and musical talent to poke fun at his insecurities while holding a mirror up to ours is well established, as is his directorial eye as seen in 2018’s Eighth Grade. If every of his particular person expertise is one element of the band that’s Bo Burnham, then Inside is their supergroup. Songs like “White Girl’s Instagram” are a visible collage that expertly apes pop music and social media posting tropes in video kind whereas “Turning 30” is a single-take efficiency of a frankly hurtful banger whereby Burnham makes use of pedals and his personal ass to manage a dynamic lighting system. Virtually each quantity has you asking “how did he try this?” and the more and more outstanding reply is “alone, and inside.”
The centerpiece of Inside is “Welcome to the Web,” a four-and-a-half minute villain track that casts Burnham as a sinister carnival barker laying out the thesis assertion of the trash hearth we name the online: “Can I curiosity you in all the things, the entire time? Apathy’s a tragedy and tedium is against the law.” The frenetic beat will get sooner as he describes what the web has in retailer (toes pics, breakfast recipes, directions for constructing a bomb) and immediately remembers the overwhelming feeling of getting locked in a spiral of doomscrolling and realizing that all the things, all the things about current on-line is a nightmare — the entire time.
The bait-and-switch of humorous man stuff with miserable realism is a well-known Burnham trick, however mixing this explicit journey into hilarious darkness with the communal hellscape of 2020 makes it rather more potent. It’s extremely straightforward to look at Inside and pinpoint acquainted quarantine moments like “that point we thought it was going to be brief and enjoyable,” “sexting and feeling unhealthy about it,” “feeling helpless within the face of neoliberal fascism,” and “not showering for greater than every week, perhaps speak to somebody about that.” The anxieties and considerations Burnham exploits for his comedy are rather more frequent this time and consequently, they’re more durable to look at. At across the three-quarter level, the emotional expertise of watching Inside turns into virtually insufferable as a result of Burnham’s efficiency of ache is an excessive amount of, too actual, too insufferable.
In one of many closing songs, “All Eyes On Me,” Burnham copies the wavy stadium vibe of a profitable Soundcloud DJ and pitches his voice decrease to ask an imagined viewers to take a look at him, then look away, pray for him, all eyes on him, heads down, and so forth. His relationship to the imagined viewers is current and altering all through the particular, nevertheless it’s there that Burnham’s ambivalence in direction of even filming this comes throughout essentially the most. That’s the second the place the digicam lens virtually cracks to indicate the artist behind this very well-made journey into darkness. He made this alone considering of the individuals who would watch it, besides fuck them, however he wants them, however he’d quite not know what they assume.
Inside is…lots. It is a staggering feat of multimedia artwork that speaks to Bo Burnham’s uncommon creativity. It is also a hopeless and upsetting projection of melancholy that will get a little bit too near the feels if one is inclined to really feel them. It is sensible, the songs are largely bangers, and it is laugh-out-loud hilarious. It is bodily painful to look at. That oscillation is the purpose of Inside and of Burnham’s work as a complete. All eyes on him. Now heads down. Pray for him. And for the love of god, do not ask him what he did in 2020.