Inside Amy Schumer is the product of a world startlingly different from the one we’re living in today. Spanning from 2013 through 2016, the show’s original, four-season Comedy Central run didn’t just make Schumer a household name. It also became a touchstone of a pop-feminist decade ushered in by the mid-aughts blogosphere and abruptly extinguished at the exact instant that Hillary Clinton conceded to Donald Trump, just a few months after the show’s finale. Suddenly, Beyoncé performing in front of a giant Feminist sign at the 2014 VMAs called to mind George W. Bush speaking in front of a giant Mission Accomplished banner six weeks into the Iraq War. Ilana Glazer’s voracious Broad City character lost her sex drive and ended up in therapy.
As Schumer parlayed the success of Trainwreck, the 2015 rom-com that she starred in and scripted, into lead roles in big-screen comedies like I Feel Pretty and Snatched, the show that had rightly earned her so much attention aged overnight. Hilariously attuned to the confusing mix of privilege, oppression, narcissism, and empowerment that comprised straight, white, middle-class, American womanhood at the time, her sketches highlighted the small hypocrisies and self-delusions of a group that could afford to laugh at itself but never forgot that men were worse. Six years after its finale, one need only review the results of the most recent Supreme Court session to understand how much has changed. Which raises the questions of why, exactly, Inside Amy Schumer is returning for a fifth season (this time on Paramount+) and how its creator and star plans to meet a considerably dark, more delicate moment for feminism.
The first two episodes, which will both hit the streaming service on Oct. 20, suggest that Schumer is equally confused about how to proceed. There are some genuinely funny sketches in the vintage-Inside mold. The premiere opens with an amusing faux TV ad for a psoriasis drug that allows Schumer’s character to “get back to doing what I love”—making ugly, unusable ceramics for her family—followed by a confab of girlfriends whose apparent embrace of “gratitude” turns out to be an embrace of cosmetic surgery, featuring the original series’ frequent musical guest, Somebody Somewhere’s Bridget Everett. In episode 2, Schumer plays an eliminated Bachelor contestant recording audio pickups on her way out. As she re-records lines she’s well aware will paint her as a monster, the sketch becomes a shrewd commentary on reality stars’ complicity in their own humiliation.
Maybe it’s not a coincidence that the funniest sketch of the bunch has no overt connection to feminism. “Fart Park” starts with the inherently funny concept of a dog-park-style enclosure in a public square for people who need a safe space to pass gas, escalates into a meet-cute (fart-cute?), and keeps taking wonderfully absurd turns from there. It’s over too soon—and if you’re a regular viewer of SNL’s interminable scenes, you know that’s a compliment.
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Much weaker are Inside’s concerted efforts to engage with the daunting political issues facing women in 2022. A lot of this material just feels tired, as though it were written years ago and dusted off for the show’s comeback. Schumer’s take on the end of Roe—a cheerful Colorado tourism ad that winkingly plays up the state’s “access” amid so many neighbors with abortion bans—would’ve been solid at half the runtime. But one dire sketch mocks a Texas tough guy’s worst fear: trans women using restrooms appropriate to their gender identity. Even a perfectly cast Ellie Kemper can’t save a parody of TV’s implicitly conservative Christmas specials that has been done many times before, culminating in the character’s horrified realization that the high-school sweetheart she’s reconnecting with has grown up to be an all lives matter guy.
At their worst, the jokes don’t land like jokes at all. A college-orientation sketch that might’ve felt fresh during the campus-rape debate of the early ’90s, finds an RA distributing gift bags filled with increasingly alarming items—rape whistles, mace, actual combat weapons—to freshman girls. It’s followed by one of many inexplicable new interstitial clips in which Schumer and her writing staff elaborate on the segment we’ve just seen. “College orientation is basically just: ‘Welcome to college, you’re about to be assaulted,’” notes Inside writer and current university student Sascha Seinfeld. (Yes, nepo-baby scholars, she is also Jerry Seinfeld’s daughter.) LOL?
As hit-or-miss as the sketches can be, it’s these new interstitials that betray the show’s true aimlessness. The Comedy Central seasons sprinkled in footage of Schumer performing her standup act, conducting irreverent man-on-the-street interviews, and sitting down to chat with interesting, mostly non-famous guests ranging from a Catholic nun to a dominatrix. Aside from being genuinely fascinating and often quite funny, these nonfiction elements complemented sketches that weren’t afraid to get blunt about dating, body image, the unspoken rules of female friendship, and most of all, sex at its strangest and most awkward. (The series premiere opens with Schumer auditioning for the unspeakably disgusting viral porn video “2 Girls 1 Cup.” If you don’t already know what that is, I recommend never, ever googling it.)
Season 5’s behind-the-scenes clips, by contrast, tend to break a fundamental rule of comedy: they explain the jokes. Even more perplexing is Schumer’s choice to end both episodes with animated music videos for what her friend, 30 Rock and Silicon Valley writer Ron Weiner, describes as his “dorky comedy songs,” on such topics as why no one ever needs to buy napkins. (They’re easy to pilfer.) There’s nothing inherently wrong with the songs. They just have nothing to do with the rest of the show. Whereas Inside once functioned as a compendium of Schumer’s keenly observed obsessions, it’s now more like a collection of things she kind of likes or feels compelled, as a feminist-identified woman with a mainstream platform, to address.
Schumer is, clearly, in transition. Over the past four years, she’s gotten married, become a mother after enduring an especially difficult pregnancy, and, of course, survived the same pandemic nightmare from which we’re all still struggling to awaken. She’s documented all of the above in her stand-up and in the reality series Expecting Amy and Amy Schumer Learns to Cook. This past spring, an uneven Hulu dramedy, Life & Beth, drew on elements of her adolescence and adulthood. These projects are more obviously autobiographical than Inside ever was, but Schumer’s sketches were nonetheless informed by her experiences as a young, single woman in the public eye who didn’t always meet society’s impossible beauty standards. Season 3’s episode-long 12 Angry Men parody, still my favorite thing Schumer has ever made, found a jury of male guest stars arguing over whether she was attractive enough to be on TV.
It seems as though Schumer has put less of herself into the new Inside, whether because her daily life is less eventful now or because she feels more pressure, as an established celebrity, to make statements on Big Issues Facing Women or because she doesn’t want to repeat a schtick that got played out even before the pop-feminist juggernaut crashed. Fair enough. She’s also noticeably toned down the raunch; maybe her sense of humor has matured. Fine. But if Schumer wants Inside to do for her in 2022 what it did for her in 2013, she’s got to find a new voice that’s as perceptive, provocative, and entertaining as the original. It hasn’t happened yet.
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