Talk about an Emmy snub! While Bo Burnham took away three awards in the Emmys including directing and writing his hit Netflix special, Inside, he didn’t win the one he truly deserved. The category in question, Outstanding Variety Special, went to Disney+’s Hamilton instead, which hit the platform last year.
And, as one might expect, Bo Burnham’s fanbase is disappointed. After all, Inside is an original, satirical work – some may say ‘art’ – while Hamilton is a decidedly unoriginal stage adaptation of a historical figure. And you know what? I completely agree with them.
A Little Bit of Everything
So, why, why is Bo Burnham’s Inside more deserving of an Outstanding Variety Special than the show that won?
Firstly, to partly quote one of the special’s songs, it has “a little bit of everything, all of the time”. From comedy to tragedy to social commentary to catchy songs, Inside has it all. It shows that Burnham, despite his trade as a comedian, is exceptional in a range of narrative styles.
To illustrate this, just think about the range of ‘bits’ in the special. One moment Burnham is satirizing the stereotypes of white female instagrammers. In another skit, he plays a digital marketer while making a profound observation that perhaps the digital world we use every day is more real than the flesh-and-blood one we all know and tolerate. Near the end of the special, we have the mind-blowingly awesome ‘All Eyes On Me’ which not only expresses Burnham’s struggles with anxiety but also shows his ability to write catchy anthems.
So, Inside has everything. And it only becomes more impressive when you realize Burnham wrote, directed, and performed it all himself. This special is the only good thing to come out of this pandemic.
Despite the range of musical styles, there are prevalent themes throughout Inside. These include depression, anxiety, alienation, and the negative consequences of the internet. The big irony of the special is despite its serious subject matter, many of the songs are upbeat and contradict their dark lyrical content.
This is perhaps most evident in ‘Sh*t’. Here, Burnham sings about his depression (“feeling like a massive sack of sh*t”) alongside an incredibly upbeat melody as disco lights flare around him. Then there’s ‘That’s How the World Works’, where Bo’s sock puppet, ‘Socko’ hilariously undermines the bouncy nature of the song by commenting on matters like systemic oppression, corporate elites, and genocide. It helps the special that the songs are genuinely catchy and warrant several listens.
But perhaps the special’s biggest strength is how it captures the way people felt during the lockdown. The special’s setting is Burnham’s spare room in his house. It’s seldom decorated – in fact, the walls are plain white and the room itself feels as empty as Burnham’s protagonist. Many of the song’s videos are performed in the darkness (i.e. White Woman’s Instagram, FaceTiming With My Mom, and All Eyes On Me). This, combined with the characterless room creates a feeling of claustrophobia unique to Inside. The setting itself oozes the alienation and depression experienced by many during the lockdown.
Welcome to the Internet
But as well as confront personal demons, Burnham’s epic also explores bigger questions. In particular, the biggest question it covers is ‘what is the internet doing to the world’? This is most strongly expressed through Burnham’s eerie but upbeat ‘Welcome to the Internet’. The lyrics speedily sift through various images including ‘women’s feet’ and ‘nine-year-olds who died’ in an almost overwhelming manner that seemingly comments on the internet’s ability to overload us with information.
Yet, the commentary isn’t restricted to the songs. In one segment, Burnham imitates a Twitch streamer who plays a game of Burnham wandering around his room. The sheer mundanity of both the streamer and the game highlights the meaninglessness of Twitch streaming in general. In another related segment, Burnham lies down in a depressed hump, raising the question as to whether it’s a good idea we let tech monopolies control our dopamine-activated impulses.
Burnham’s exploration of these themes ties in well with his depression and anxiety. Again, despite the comedic nature of his material, the lyrical content can verge on nihilism at times. In the acoustic ballad ‘That Funny Feeling’, Burnham comments that “We are overdue, but it’ll be over soon, just wait” – basically, we are so far into the “very-real digital space” he describes earlier that it’s too late to turn back.
Get Back Inside
All in all Inside remains relevant even several months after its release. It chronicles a young man’s depression and anxiety as he isolates himself at home. Starting with the energetic ‘Content’ and ending with the anthemic ‘All Eyes On Me’ and the sorrowful ‘This is How It Ends’, the special is quite simply a masterpiece from start to finish. It fully captures the alienation and anxiety of Millenials and Gen Z while exploring how our society is changing due to the Internet.
Now, Hamilton is brilliant – and I highly suggest you go watch it. But in my opinion, Inside wins easily when it comes to Outstanding Variety Special. No comedy special – heck, no feature – has depicted the pains of living in the modern world more than Burnham’s latest work. No feature has perfectly condensed the range of human emotion so well in an hour and 16 minutes. And, quite frankly, no feature has such a damn good collection of songs.
Because while Hamilton depicts the past, Bo Burnham’s Emmy-worthy Inside depicts the present and where we are going. And in a world full of uncertainty and alienation, we could use a lot more of that right now.
So, that’s my take on Bo Burnham’s awesome Inside and why it deserved the Emmy for Outstanding Variety Special. Do you agree or disagree with my summation? Do you think Hamilton is the better (and correct) choice? Be sure to share your thoughts on the matter in the comments below…