Inside: Bo Burnham has produced a genius lockdown masterpiece | Jack Marshall's column

In a sense, the pressure was on in lockdown. Those who thought they had a novel in them had time to write. Duolingo devotees had a chance to learn Spanish.

Monday, 12th July 2021, 4:55 am
Bo Burnham in his special Inside (source: Netflix)
Bo Burnham in his special Inside (source: Netflix)

But life got in the way. Unless you’re Bo Burnham, who produced something genius. Titled ‘Inside’, Burnham’s new Netflix musical comedy special is a masterpiece.

Filmed in a single room, Inside is all breathtaking lighting and camera angles, witty and poignant original songs, moving b-roll footage of him beavering away quietly on the stunning project.

Early on, a clean-cut Bo sings “Robert’s been a little depressed… but look, I made you some content”, reflecting everyone’s dash to Netflix in the early months of lockdown. He soon grapples with self-doubt - “should I be joking at a time like this?”

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But his trademark self-deprecation shines through: “If you wake up in a house that’s full of smoke, don’t panic; call me and I’ll tell you a joke.” His hair and beard get more bedraggled.

He talks to himself in a mirror. The aspect ratio changes to fit themes of songs (narrowing to represent a phone when singing about Facetiming his mum). But Burnham’s more acerbic stylings shine through, too.

A lively parody of a kids’ song about ‘how the world works’ skewers capitalism before he mocks brand managers scrambling to pander to consumers regarding social justice movements.

He attacks the concept of unpaid interns before “reacting” to his own video and getting caught in a reaction time-loop spiral. He congratulates Jeff Bezos snarkily in one bit, before a song about sexting features a paragraph about consent projected onto a wall behind him.

Burnham turns 30 on camera. His worsening mental health takes centre stage. He references suicide twice before saying he’s not suicidal, urging others to seek help if they are in a clip projected onto his own heart as he watches on, hair and beard dishevelled.

At one point, he’s a gamer controlling himself. All his character can do is cry and play the piano. He admits his mental health is at an “all-time low”. There are allusions to his five-year break from live performing due to him suffering panic attacks on stage.

He says, point-blank, “I am not well” and cries. In ‘All Eyes on Me’, the special’s biggest hit, he’s projected onto the wall behind him as if at a gig. Looking worn, he says: “I think I’m done.”

The final scene is a gut punch, tragic and hopeful. We’ve all been inside, but nobody has produced anything like Bo Burnham.