There aren’t many examples of entertainment out there that manage to embody the worst days of quarantine.
For Netflix, Bo Burnham has spent his year indoors languishing, yet, somehow, creating a piece of art that truly captures the mundanity and existential angst of the current moment.
Inside lunges from one topic to another, seemingly at random, like flicking through apps on a phone screen, each performance disconnected from the last, yet thematically consistent.
Imbuing happy-go-lucky musical performances with agony and despair, Inside feels almost like watching a feature-length TikTok clip, blending the best of internet culture with perfect performance art.
The pandemic has created a strange limbo, a place of overstimulated boredom and mental decay, and Burnham somehow captures that inexplicable sensation, through a blend of meticulous performance and raw moments of grief, caught on camera, the all-seeing machine that seems to be his sole companion.
At times, it’s difficult to tell which is the reality, and which is the performance; Burnham has spliced both together in the edit.
Inside captures the essence of the pandemic as it was experienced by the privileged, stuck indoors, safe from physical harm, yet caught in the crossfire of the infinite stream of opinions spurting out of our screens.
Burnham, however, is nothing if not self-aware; the beginning of the special sees him refer to his own work as “content,” telling the audience to “open wide.” Burnham reflects on his own privileged position, pokes fun at the idea of comedy making a positive impact in a broken world, and even considers, briefly, staying silent.
Thankfully, Burnham has plenty to say; highlights of the special include an exploration of a “white woman’s Instagram” (which features a surprisingly heartfelt moment of empathy), a perfect description of the infinite, nonsensical, corrosive-yet-addicting landscape of the internet, as well as a parody of “corporate wokeness,” the language of social justice absorbed into the marketing department.
One particularly profound performance features a sock puppet, pointing out the exploitative state of the modern world, a bitter reality that the lull of the pandemic has laid bare; the message is emphasized by Burnham, channeling the manic positivity of a children’s tv presenter, forcing his puppet into compliance.
Burnham ends his special by highlighting the difficulty of going back to normal – whatever “normal” means. For Burnham, Inside marks the end of a 5-year absence from the spotlight, as he took time off to work on his mental health. Now, the pressure of performance looms beyond the horizon.
But Burnham seems to be pointing out that it isn’t just entertainers, celebrities and influencers who feel the pressure of constantly being seen; social media has turned us all into brands, to some degree, and returning to the real world, to the “stage,” might be just as agonizing as quarantine.