There’s a rich vein of nostalgia running through tonight’s Inside Amy Schumer, and it’s loaded with specificity that makes it both potent and pointed. That nostalgia extends beyond the titular 80s Ladies who clip-clop to the rescue in the show’s opening and return throughout to offer solace to the women of 2015, and it extends beyond the ’80s. “80s Ladies” namedrops ’80s fare like Weird Science, The Cosby Show, and Ghost, and alludes to Working Girl and Three Men And A Baby, but it also brings us glimpses of Bill Nye and Jerry Seinfeld. These images and icons from the 1980s and 1990s—Amy Schumer’s childhood and adolescence, not coincidentally—combine to signify simple unexamined comforts in a complicated world.
“80s Ladies” is about more than nostalgia. It’s about nostalgia as an escape from accountability, and the desire to reject the self-examination and guilt that thoughtful examination of one’s pleasures often elicits.
Or, as 80s Lady Amy Schumer says, shrugging off an oversight, “Screw it!”
The period precision of The 80s Ladies is a huge part of their appeal. This isn’t the simple oversized-shoulderpad sight gag that some shows would settle for. These ladies are half Designing Women, half pre-makeover Working Girl Melanie Griffith, and all detail. The sassy young professionals (“They’re workin’ in offices, date Michael Douglas,” their theme song proclaims) clomp in, wearing curly teased hair, square scarves or jabots, and pale pumps with sheer black hose, and they start pulling goodies out of their slouchy candy-colored purses to rescue the overtaxed 2015 counterparts.
It’s not just the precision of the costumes, but the warmth with which The 80s Ladies—Schumer, Nikki Glaser, Margaret Rose Champagne, Karen Chamberlain, and Rachel Feinstein—inhabit their roles that makes the joke land over and over. They’re silly and they give terrible advice, but they earnestly want to help, and they do. All three of their new friends are consoled and cheered by the enthusiastic camaraderie of The 80s Ladies. “Want a smoke?” Margaret Rose Champagne’s 80s Lady urges the office worker. “You’ll feel better.”
The modern professional demurs for a moment, then relents. “Yeah, why not?” She smiles as she relaxes into her own unexpected indulgence.
That’s the nugget of truth at the heart of this episode of giddy, colorful fun. It’s doesn’t just feel good to give in to temptation; it feels good, in a shallow way, to stop thinking, to reject the restraint that so often accompanies responsible indulgence in pleasures—indulgences like ice cream, cigarettes, love lives, hopes and ambitions, and even entertainment.
The perils and pleasures of unexamined desires emerge again in a sketch riffing on Weird Science. Stuck living with her mother after her sixth divorce (and seventh abortion), Amy vents to visiting friends Amber Tamblyn and America Ferrera about her miserable romantic history. Commiserating, they tell her she can’t find the right guy because he doesn’t exist, and together they compile a haphazard, contradictory, repetitive list of all the attributes they desire in a man.
Their fantasy man—their Kelly LeBrock—is ferociously strong but painstakingly gentle with a physique balanced precisely between “cut” and “jacked,” like a poor person but not poor, moneyed but self-made, orphaned but adoring of his family, respectful of their independence but eager to pay for every expense, artistic but not an artist (“like Bono’s chiropractor”), and simultaneously sensitively evolved and quick to rage when someone looks askance at his girlfriend.
As Amy types this haphazard, contradictory list into “this strange ‘80s computer that’s been on all these years” in her childhood bedroom, an electrical storm surges overhead, and a few stray keystrokes and an accidental hack into the Pentagon mainframe combine to manifest their fantasy in the flesh… in the misshapen, mewling flesh. “He’s perfect!” the three women coo, because his contorted shape is the expression of all their impossible desires—or so they think until they spot his wedding ring.
A segment starring Bill Nye benefits from all the gravitas a bowtie, labcoat, and Hubble-style graphics can bestow, as he announces, “In recent years, a stunning breakthrough has been made in our concept of what the universe is for.” Soberly, Nye reveals, “the universe is essentially a force sending cosmic guidance to white women in their 20s.”
His declaration is interspersed with the chattier revelations of young women—in a fro yo shop, in a desultory spin session, curled up on a couch—describing the very specific messages by which “the universe” encourages their laziest or most tempting course of action, whether that’s Ilana Glazer’s rudderless ambition of an artisanal mitten company (and her more practical plan to mooch off Abbi Jacobson while she daydreams), Amber Tamblyn’s inspiration to stop paying for cable and spend that money on in-app purchases, or Amy’s cosmic instruction to “keep fuckin’ your married boss, all right?”
Nowhere is the idea of nostalgia or desire as denial more explicit or more cutting than in a segment where Amy Schumer defends Bill Cosby in the court of public opinion. After a weeks-long presentation of evidence, the prosecution rests. Schumer stands and, without preamble, plays the first few bars of The Cosby Show theme for the jury, wriggling and dancing artlessly to it for a scant few seconds before she cuts off the music.
But a few seconds is enough. “That was already fun, wasn’t it?” she asks wistfully. “Did everybody feel happy just now? You remember?”
She presses ahead. “Let’s break this down logically: ‘I am a good person. I like this good show.’ Last time I checked, good plus good did not equal guilty.” Her final summation is nakedly self-serving and specious, but as moving as any courtroom drama deserves:
“Ladies and gentlemen, at this point, Bill Cosby probably can’t get in any legal trouble. That’s not what this is about. This is about us not punishing ourselves for loving great comedy. This is a court of public opinion, right? Let’s remind ourselves what’s at stake here. If convicted, the next time you put on a rerun of The Cosby Show, you may wince a little. You may feel a little pang. And none of us deserve that. We don’t deserve to feel that pang. We deserve to dance like no one’s watching, and watch like no one’s raping. The defense rests.”
It’s a brutal, simple truth, delivered with Schumer’s characteristic combination of crass laughs laced through with trenchant wit. It’s hard to give up our once-innocent pleasures, even when our pleasures no longer feel so innocent. It’s tempting to make allowances for the things we love, for the things we want, for the things we hope, even if they are implausible, unsupportable, impossible, or downright ugly. “80s Ladies” urges us to look at our private allowances and indulgences, and it does it deliberately, unflinchingly, and with a depth of understanding that is both complicit and compassionate.
- “My diaphragm itches!”
- Schumer’s left-handed side-arm toss of a pudding pop to the judge is pretty impressive, doubly so since she doesn’t even look to see it land.
- Ferrera’s character’s interest in their fantasy man’s penis size escalates past preoccupation and into obsession over the course of a few brief sentences: “Huge [bleep], no balls”; “huge dick,” she reminds Amy twice, finally suggesting she type it in all caps; she sums up her fantasy man as “Heart of gold, horse of cock, what’s the big deal here?”
- Perhaps the oddest trait all three women agree on is Tamblyn’s suggestion of “huge hands like the BFG.”
- Every one of Schumer, Ferrera, and Tamblyn’s weirdly detailed fantasies deserves to be noted here, but given the constraints of space and time, I’ll leave you with “Rough hands, strong tongue, weak eyelids, no family.”
- Thanks to Kate Knibbs for conjuring me up on her weird ’80s computer to cover this week’s episode!