Last week, the comic Bo Burnham launched Welcome to the Web, his first video on his channel in 4 years and the main single, of types, for Inside, the virtuosic Netflix particular he wrote, directed, carried out in and edited alone throughout Covid lockdowns. Filmed solo at his keyboard, simply as within the movies which rocketed him to early YouTube fame as a 16-year-old in 2006, Burnham assumes the voice of the web as that of an ominous carnival barker. He beckons with a well-recognized cacophony of contextless stimuli – “Right here’s a tip for straining pasta / right here’s a nine-year-old who died” – because the music’s tempo steadily will increase right into a frenzy. Apathy’s a tragedy and tedium is a criminal offense, he says within the chorus – welcome to an web mind, when the world outdoors will get stripped away.
The label “comedy particular” doesn’t actually describe Inside, an hour-and-a-half assortment of songs, bits, monologues and meta footage of Burnham filming in his attic room whose cohesion splinters and spirals alongside along with his melancholy over the course of a yr. It’s intensely private, with Burnham – or, at the very least, his onscreen avatar – rising pale and twitchy as his psychological well being reaches an “all-time low” heightened by the overwhelm of being an individual on-line. It’s additionally the one piece of artwork about lockdown that I’ve really loved watching, because it captures one thing near-universal concerning the enervating, jittery, fractured expertise of the final yr, by which our digital lives far outpaced our IRL ones, at the very least for these lucky sufficient to remain residence.
Quite a few display screen tasks have tried to grapple with the collective trauma of the previous yr and arrived half-baked, myopic. However timing apart (Inside was launched final month, as many US cities returned to pre-pandemic capacities), Burnham’s particular feels, lastly, like a compelling, discernible reflection. It’s set the bar for quarantine-processing TV/movie, by burrowing deep into one particular person’s subjective, online-addled expertise of 2020 – and, within the course of, reflecting some semblance of what this yr has achieved to our brains.
I’ve been skeptical, at greatest, of makes an attempt to make sense of life after March 2020 via quick-response artwork. From the patchy New York Instances short-fiction compilation The Decameron Undertaking to Freeform’s unsettlingly clumsy sequence Love within the Time of Corona to Netflix’s admirable however flat anthology Social Distance, no piece of fiction has been in a position to make coherence out a time that felt each like a weird blip and an indecipherable eternity. Comedy that spiked throughout final summer time’s supercharged on-line environment has both landed on uneven streamer footing – Sarah Cooper’s Netflix particular Every part’s Wonderful, Instagram Dwell breakout Ziwe’s eponymous talkshow on Showtime – or fizzled out.
Inside, nonetheless, will get as shut as I can think about one thing can to what final yr felt like, at the very least for the privileged amongst us in a position to keep residence, by riffing on a number of the hottest genres of western web content material (twitch streaming, response movies, white girls’s self-mythologizing Instagrams) and spelunking alongside its creator’s internet-fueled neuroses. The title refers back to the attic room but additionally Burnham’s inside nervousness, and the digital funhouse of commerce, socialization and inescapable content material that flattens the whole lot, forgets nothing, and solely churns quicker.
Inside begins in an identical vein to Burnham’s earlier specials what. in 2013 and Make Blissful in 2016, with a set of deceptively well-produced, catchy songs that take purpose at broad cultural targets, from mothers’ inept FaceTiming to awkward sexting. However the remaining two-thirds devolve into heightened nervousness and deadening consciousness of Burnham’s personal online-exacerbated nervousness and amplified neuroses. In a single bit, Burnham spoofs a standard YouTube trope, response movies, with a merciless twist: his response to a brief music turns into a nesting doll of instantaneous reactions to his prior reactions, Burnham critiquing himself on 4 ranges of efficiency – as correct an outline of my social mind calcified into a continuing state of self-revision and anticipation of criticism that I’ve ever seen.
As the previous New York Instances columnist and a focus economic system skilled Charlie Warzel identified in his e-newsletter Galaxy Mind, Burnham is the right messenger for this self-effacing nervousness as an internet-native performer whose fame simply barely precedes the proliferation of our lives as each content material customers and semi-public producers on-line. Burnham’s public development as a performer is singular; he stopped performing stay comedy in 2015, after combating on-stage panic assaults, and turned to roles with extra moderated suggestions – appearing, akin to in Promising Younger Lady, and directing the critically acclaimed drama Eighth Grade, one of many few movies to appreciably seize the emotional world of social media for teenagers. However his web expertise – proof of 1’s cringeworthy development, simply searchable and terminally on view, is now for a lot of an on a regular basis expertise.
A lot of the web is duality that’s arduous to sq. as it’s, more durable to sq. below the firehose of, as Burnham sings in Welcome to the Web, “just a little little bit of the whole lot, all of time”. Being on-line can really feel directly expansive and claustrophobic, invigorating and deadening, inconceivably consequential and meaningless. It might probably crack open one’s world and, particularly throughout a yr by which most of our interactions have been mediated by screens, flatten it into an affordable simulacrum. Inside is chock stuffed with dread and dire exhaustion (“complete disassociation, totally out your thoughts / Googling derealization, hating what you discover”, he sings in That Humorous Feeling) however not moralism – it’s boring to decry folks for utilizing the digital instruments obtainable, way more compelling to dig into somebody’s anxious stew of emotions about all of it.
Inside presents no broad statements, no point out of the pandemic by title, no bromides about coming collectively, only a journey down the rabbit gap of isolation for one performer over the last yr. It’s an anguished, ambivalent journey whose intense self-focus provides viewers license to hint their very own emotional splinters from a yr inside, and to see extra clearly its toll.