By Alan Sepinwall
The most recent episode of Inside Amy Schumer was a fairly innocuous one. A clip show featuring snippets of sketches from all four seasons of the show, it was framed by a parody of a Real Housewives reunion, with a spray-tanned Schumer and co-stars like Bridget Everett cursing each other out while Andy Cohen looked on with amusement.
This was June 16, 2016 — the before of the before times. The presidential election and all the ugliness that followed it wouldn’t be for another four months, Covid was years away, abortion was still legal nationwide, etc. It was a relatively innocent moment, where we had no idea how bad things were about to get for humanity. Comedy Central had already ordered a fifth Inside Amy Schumer season, but that was delayed by Schumer going on a long comedy tour, making movies, getting married, having a baby, and going through health problems. And then the pandemic pushed things even further back.
It would have been easy for all involved to just move on from Inside Amy Schumer, leaving the initial four seasons as a time capsule of an earlier era. Comedy Central has all but abandoned the scripted TV business. And Schumer has in the meantime made several other TV series, including a quarantine cooking show with her chef husband Chris Fischer, and the semi-autobiographical Hulu show Life & Beth.
But the fundamental themes of the sketch comedy series feel more relevant than ever in an era when Roe v. Wade has been overturned, when there are periodic headlines asking whether #MeToo has “gone too far,” when it somehow seems more oppressive to be a woman than it was during the show’s original run. And so, more than six years since we last saw it, Inside Amy Schumer is back. There have been some changes, like abandoning the original theme music. Schumer’s stand-up act, which once bridged the gap between sketches, has been replaced by talking head interviews with Schumer and the show’s other actors and writers. Even the distribution platform has changed, with these episodes bypassing basic cable altogether to debut on Paramount+.
There’s also a shift in tone, at least some of the time. Many of the sketches in the new season’s first two installments could easily be dropped into episodes from the mid-2010s without anyone blinking. There are spoofs of prescription drug ads, or a running gag where Schumer plays a woman intrigued to come across a “fart park” during her morning walk. A few other sketches, though, come with a mix of anger and incredulity at the current state of gender relations, and the ways that women are far more under attack than when the show was last being made.
In the first episode, Schumer stars in a fake tourism ad for Colorado, where the increasingly plain subtext is that it’s a place where women from neighboring states can come if they need a legal and safe abortion. Later, we see a group of new female college students getting a freshman orientation that is almost entirely about trying to protect yourself from being raped, and about how the university will do almost nothing to protect you before or after such an attack.
Great comedy can come from a place of rage and indignation — that was the default mode for the late, lamented Full Frontal with Samantha Bee — but it’s a tougher needle to thread than, say, when Schumer satirized Friday Night Lights or Aaron Sorkin. After the college sketch, Schumer comes on camera to acknowledge, “That scene is a huge bummer.” She then introduces a college-age writer on the show, Sascha Seinfeld(*), who said that her own orientation was basically being told, “You’re about to be assaulted.”
(*) Yes, she is Jerry’s daughter.
Mostly, though, the new stuff works by finding ways to unleash the fury of Schumer and the other writers while maintaining a sillier vibe. We get, for instance, a condensed version of one of those Hallmark movies about a big city career woman who returns to her small hometown for Christmas, only it makes overt the unspoken red-state subtext of many films like that. And Michael Ian Black makes a hilarious guest appearance in the second episode as a pitchman for various new kinds of Spanx, as he repeatedly expresses open contempt for women’s bodies.
The person-on-the-street interviews are also gone, perhaps as a concession to Covid safety protocols. In their place are whimsical songs by writer Ron Weiner (30 Rock, Silicon Valley) on ephemeral subjects like how McDonald’s used to sell pizza, or why a refusal to buy napkins allows Weiner to live a fuller and more exciting life. They don’t really fit the series’ larger ideas, but they’re light and charming.
Because this season was already commissioned, albeit in 2016, this isn’t technically a revival. Still, it’s been a minute since we got new episodes. You could have a reasonable concern that, like so many of TV’s recent revivals and reboots, Inside Amy Schumer worked because it was happening in a particular moment in time for its creator and its audience, and that it wouldn’t work removed from that time. For the most part, though, the series has adjusted well to this strange and scary new era. It’s good to have it back.
The first two episodes of Inside Amy Schumer Season Five will be released Oct. 20 on Paramount+. I’ve seen those two episodes.
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