For me, professionally, one of the best pleasures is stumbling across little-known but captivating shows like “We Are Lady Parts,” a new comedy on Peacock. A British production set in London, it’s about an all-female punk band called Lady Parts whose members — including a puke-prone guitarist with stage fright — are Muslim. But it’s so much more than its one-line plot description, and it’s a lot sharper, and more humane and ambitious, than so many of the comedies that come across “my desk.”
Created by Nida Manzoor, the jubilant series gleefully stomps on stereotypes of Muslims, and particularly Muslim women, as it gives us rich portraits of the five members of Lady Parts. It accomplishes more than so many fatter series — a full story arc, a sense of cultural depth, a strong female gaze, a group of winning songs — in only three-or-so hours. The six half-hour episodes are a triumph of reach and representation as they make each of the band members, as well as their families and friends, into unpredictable characters who, like most of the real people I’ve met, are faceted and contradictory. You can’t easily pigeonhole any of them.
It’s liberating, in a way, to watch a show that allows for that kind of dodging of familiar, EZ-to-read tropes, so that a devout Muslim woman can also be a tattooed rowdy with a jagged haircut who finds all kinds of redemption and freedom in performing curse-filled punk songs. These characters are written in a way that acknowledges the unlimited variety and mysteriousness of being human, the uniqueness that lies beneath all the shared rules and rituals we might abide by.
The bulk of the show takes place from the point of view of Amina (the completely delightful Anjana Vasan), who, on the surface, embodies some of the clichés about Muslim women as meek, submissive, and one-dimensional. She wants to find a good, religious husband — or she thinks she does — because Muslim women ought not have independence or personal ambition beyond motherhood. She’s musical, and endearingly goofy, and smart, but she tries to hide those features when she meets available men in arranged situations, his and her parents in tow to approve or disapprove. When her more expressive side emerges, specifically when she has had to perform with her students, her body rebels and there is gastrointestinal hell to pay; deep down, she thinks such displays are wrong.
But, through some comedy-show mechanics, she winds up as the guitarist for Lady Parts, where she joyously rocks. She hides it from her parents, who, in more of the show’s type-busting, actually don’t mind if she goes that route — but really, she’s trying to hide it from herself. Like so many women of any religious orientation, she almost unconsciously believes that the world does not want to hear her voice, especially screaming at the top of her lungs in a punk song. The world wants her to quietly obsess about making herself appealing to marriageable men while she works for her PhD in a laboratory, and so do her conventional school girlfriends.
The other members of Lady Parts are much further along in terms of self-determination; it’s never not a kick to watch band manager Momtaz (Lucie Shorthouse), all but her wide eyes covered, blowing vape smoke through her veil. They humor Amina while, by example, they inspire her to take charge. The strong-willed Saira (Sarah Kameela Impey) fronts the band — which also includes bass player Bisma (Faith Omole) and drummer Ayesha (Juliette Motamed) — and she’s bent on helping Amina bust out and realize herself. Saira is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Amina. She doesn’t care about what people think or expect; she lives according to her own rules, something that presents a challenge to her boyfriend, who longs for a commitment.
“We Are Lady Parts” also shows music as a gateway to a kind of salvation, at a time when so many perceive it as the portal to fame and fortune. The songs, both those written for the show (including “Voldemort Under My Headscarf” and “Bashir With the Good Beard,” which I am still singing) and the band’s cover of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5,” are angry and shouty and at times funny, and they give the show an added buoyancy. They are songs of fury, songs of autonomy, songs of deliverance.