The first season of Inside Amy Schumer was some of the best TV of 2013 because it asserted its voice almost immediately—and the show spent its first 10 episodes honing that voice. Inside Amy Schumer and its star are worthy additions to Comedy Central’s rich ecosystem of comedic voices. The sketch show’s second season doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the table, but that’s not exactly a problem. The topics that most interest Amy Schumer are rather inexhaustible, and her singular focus actually turns into a positive rather than a negative attribute in the early parts of season two.
Pop culture representations of sexuality remain Inside Amy Schumer’s primary targets. Often, it falls to Schumer herself to either skewer existing tropes or completely embrace them in order to undermine them. It’s a robust topic that Inside Amy Schumer attacks from multiple angles in early episodes: Media coverage of a beautiful-yet-untalented tennis player, a “realistic” military shooter that doubles as a painful representation of reporting rape within the military, and fictionalized focus groups of the show itself all help paint a broad picture of normalized responses to horrific situations. The power of these sketches comes in the form of depicting absence—in this case, what’s absent is the voices of those being suppressed by sociopolitical forces normalizing one type of behavior by silencing another.
But the show also interrogates the ways in which both men and women have absorbed certain stereotypes without fully realizing the impacts of that absorption. One early-season sketch uses Schumer’s tomboy character as a way to examine dude-bro gay panic. Another features a group of women constantly assuring each other they are skinny while simultaneously ignoring the hellaciously awful things they do in non-food related areas. Both sketches speak the language of magazines, blogs, television shows, and other consumable media, which makes Inside Amy Schumer less a reflection of the star’s own comic persona and more a deconstruction of the definitions incorporated into the audience’s everyday outlook.
When the show does deal explicitly (a word that is applicable on multiple levels here) with sex, it does so in a refreshingly inquisitive manner. In that respect, Inside Amy Schumer has a lot in common with FX’s Louie: The comedians behind each program express genuine curiosity about what makes human beings tick. The latter may deal in more esoteric, philosophical inquiry than the former, but both are keenly interested in the base impulses people share, and the collective shame that makes them hide these impulses from one another.
There are rarely lessons learned from these observations, but that’s not the point; simply bringing them to the surface for discussion is. A sketch in the season premiere features Paul Giamatti as God, appearing in the apartment of Schumer’s character after she prays that she doesn’t have herpes. “70 percent who reach out to me are having a herpes scare,” declares God. It’s a throwaway joke. But it’s also indicative of the type of dialogue Inside Amy Schumer wants to have. Rather than having those 70 percent of Christians praying alone in silence, the show would rather illustrate commonality—albeit through sexually transmitted diseases.
That desire for dialogue extends to two segments that occur in each episode: on-the-street segments in which Schumer interviews people, and “Amy Goes Deep,” where she speaks one-on-one with someone who works in sexually related fields. Here, any pretense of Amy Schumer’s onstage comic persona fade away, and what’s left is someone who listens to each person’s life story without prejudgment. She might occasionally crack jokes at what they said, but rarely at that person’s expense. It’s an important distinction, one that separates Inside Amy Schumer from other Comedy Central shows like Tosh.O. When Schumer high-fives a former phone-sex operator for making a man who paid for a 10-minute session orgasm in only three, there’s nothing ironic about it. Seeing the “real” Schumer (whatever that truly means) in these two segments actually adds resonance to the scripted material, and helps create a space for them to exist in the first place. If Inside Amy Schumer featured just ironic distance as its comedic engine, it would still be funny. But it wouldn’t have quite the surprise depth that these segments lend to the proceedings.
When the show aims directly at pop culture, however, things get a bit more mixed. A parody of The Newsroom set inside a fast-food restaurant hits all the right notes—including an appearance by Aaron Sorkin alum Josh Charles—but doesn’t have much reason to exist. An overly long sketch dedicated to the poor customer service of a certain cable provider is similarly well-constructed but lacking in applicability. Segments like this are perfectly fine, and there really isn’t a true dud in any of the early episodes. But when contrasted with some of the truly searing material adjacent to these bits, they feel like a bit of a waste. This is a high-class problem for the show to have, but given the strong voice present throughout most of Inside Amy Schumer, it’s slightly disappointing when it veers off-course.
If Inside Amy Schumer feels like it’s not breaking a lot of new ground this season, there’s one sketch that offers insight into why that might be. After a fictional public-relations stunt paints the comedian in a bad light, she tries to get good press by going to a prom with a supposed superfan. At the risk of spoiling the sketch, it ends with an online headline reading: “Jealous Comedian Attacks Disabled Teens. Are Women Funny?” The last bit is both a non sequitur and the singular reason for Inside Amy Schumer’s singular focus. Breakthroughs in female comedy are often treated in the media as black-swan events, important for their aberrational qualities rather than being indicative of a larger, untapped pool of talent. So long as the “Are Women Funny?” question is perpetually asked, Inside Amy Schumer will seemingly perform the yeoman’s work of chipping away at such falsehoods until the question itself seems ludicrous to ask in the first place. The fact that it’s damn funny doesn’t diminish the importance of that work. And when Inside Amy Schumer commits fully to that work, it’s television unlike almost anything else on the air today.
Created by: Amy Schumer and Daniel Powell
Returns: Tuesday at 10:30 p.m. Eastern on Comedy Central
Format: Half-hour sketch comedy
Three season-two episodes watched for review