When Hannah Gadsby's 2018 Netflix special Nanette captured the zeitgeist, some people got mad at her for doing "a lecture, a glorified TED Talk, a one-woman show," not a stand-up comedy special. In her new special, Douglas, Gadsby responds directly to the haters by giving an actual lecture, and also indirectly, because Douglas is a stand-up special. Haters said she didn't do stand-up, so she responded with very funny stand-up. Douglas has the thoughtful craft and righteous anti-patriarchy anger you'd expect from the person who made Nanette, but it has a lighter touch, a looser structure, and no moment like the climax of Nanette in which she doesn't tell jokes, only truth. Douglas is, by design, funny all the way through.
Gadsby opens the special with a lengthy chunk explaining everything that's going to happen in the special. She tells anyone expecting more trauma catharsis that she put all the trauma she had into Nanette, so this one is going to be different. The opening is a very confident flex, a comedian in full command of her talent calling her shots. The Australian has been spending a lot more time in America, which she observes is populated by very confident people, and it seems to have worn off on her. She even jokingly spoils what's supposed to be the big reveal of the show, that she has autism.
Gadsby's relatively recent autism diagnosis is the core of the show, and if Douglas has an agenda, it's to show that neurodiversity is part of the normal spectrum of life. Douglas is also a chance for her to complain about how the Ninja Turtles are ahistorical because the artist Donatello died many years before his Renaissance counterparts Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael. Like in Nanette, art history is a major topic, but it's deployed differently. In the earlier special, Gadsby talked about the life of Vincent Van Gogh to dispel the myth that artists need to suffer to be creative. In Douglas, she gives a literal art history lecture to mock the people who accused her of giving a lecture in Nanette. And then she closes the show with what's basically a roast of some weird old paintings.
Douglas won't blow up the way Nanette did, because the success of that special came from being in the right place (Netflix) at the right time (at the crest of the #MeToo movement). But the level of quality in Douglas shows that Nanette's seeming out-of-nowhere success wasn't a fluke (not that it was actually out of nowhere, of course; Gadsby had been doing comedy in Australia for almost 15 years at that point). In Nanette, Gadsby said she had to quit comedy. Turns out she was only getting started. And now she's moved into the "flashy sneakers" stage of her comedy career, like so many successful comics do.
TV Guide Rating: 4/5
Hannah Gadsby: Douglas is available to stream on Netflix.