In Patton Oswalt's 2017 stand-up special Annihilation, produced for Netflix, the venerable stand-up comedian took the stage and worked through some of the deepest, most raw and painful aspects of grief, telling the story of the sudden death of his wife, true-crime writer Michelle McNamara, and having to tell their young daughter that her mother was gone. Since McNamara was a figure of some note, and her death was a public story, the anticipation for Annihilation was high, and Oswalt really delivered.
The question going into Oswalt's new Netflix special, I Love Everything, is where the comedian goes from here. It's not like Annihilation was the first time that Oswalt dealt with serious topics via his stand-up. He'd previously delved into issues such as his struggles with depression in a way that felt leavening without ever avoiding the gravity of the issue at hand. But since Oswalt became a widower, naturally you wonder where the comedy proceeds. With I Love Everything, the answer is that while his life continues to move and evolve, he's now able to return to his rather immense talent for joke crafting in a special that doesn't need any capital-T Topics to be a great and worthy stand-up set.
Oswalt still talks about his life in I Love Everything, with particular attention to his having found love and married again. As is typical of his comedy, he's able to be tremendously open emotionally while being playful and clever enough with his words and delivery that you don't feel like you've been cornered at the party by someone who can't wait to tell you how blessed his life has become. He describes his wife as a "poem of a woman who re-lit the sky," a phrase so instantly descriptive and joyous, you can't help but share in that joy.
The bulk of the special isn't about Oswalt's second marriage, though. Instead, it hops between some of the most quotidian, standard-issue comedic premises in the business: breakfast cereals, chain restaurants, weird takes on the Bible (okay, maybe that one's not quite so common). But it's that brilliantly written wordplay that comes through again and again. The hour kicks off with something I'm not sure I've seen much if at all in a stand-up special: a medias res cold open where Oswalt teases a bit about Denny's. When the special finally works its way back to the Denny's number, though, it's not some world-crashing event at one of America's premier chain diners. But we do get to hear the Denny's milieu described in a way that is wholly unique yet deeply, emotionally accurate.
One of Oswalt's greatest talents is his ability to describe things as emotions, and vice versa. Look no further than the fact that I still think of KFC's Famous Bowls as "sadness bowls" for evidence of that. I Love Everything shows Oswalt at the top of his game in that regard. A lengthy runner on the kinds of "deadly serious" cereals he now has to eat as he's passed age 50 — again, the kind of standard-issue fodder for comedians — leads Oswalt to describe the bowls full uninspiring all-natural grains as "brown as the dirt in the grave that awaits you." It only gets more byzantine and impishly descriptive from there.
The same treatment awaits stories about subcontractors, wedding DJs, and the futility of making jokes about Donald Trump. By the time he gets to "I have a theory about Jesus," it makes a weird bit of lunatic sense that this is where Oswalt's brain has taken him.
So, no, I Love Everything isn't the profound follow-up to Annihilation that some may have been looking for. In mood and vibe, it feels like a respite; a chance for Patton Oswalt to show off his unparalleled craft. It's a moment his audience should be glad to experience.
Patton Oswalt: I Love Everything drops on Netflix today.
Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.