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Television

The Fourth Season of 'Inside Amy Schumer' Turns Inward at a Cost

Katie Dyson

As Trainwreck and Inside Amy Schumer's third season demonstrated, Schumer’s comedy's most potent when it explores the stakes of what it skewers.


Inside Amy Schumer

Airtime: Thursdays, 9pm
Cast: Amy Schumer
Subtitle: Season 4, Episodes 1-6
Network: Comedy Central
Amazon

After a breakout season of her Comedy Central show Inside Amy Schumer, and the success of Trainwreck last summer, Amy Schumer’s found higher celebrity status and a greater degree of creative freedom: experiences she gleefully skewers in the current season of her show. Yet, if this current season has grappled with her newfound success, it's also left viewers wondering if we can relate to the new Schumer.

Little tweaks to the format of the show reveal this season’s broader shift towards exploring self and celebrity. The show has largely shed its "man on the street" interviews, which led to delightful moments of unexpected and earnest comedy in favor of bar conversations with famous friends. In her stand-up, Schumer abandons her typical comedic persona for a voice closer to her own, reserving punchlines for the sketchy cultural responses to women and celebrities in public. While Schumer's a great and genuine interviewer, even the casual interviews center less on the interviewee than on Schumer herself. On their own, these tweaks wouldn’t make or break the show, but, rather than elevating any given episode’s theme, they link disjointed and often disappointing sketches.

As Trainwreck and the best sketches from the third season of Inside Amy Schumer demonstrated, Schumer's comedy is most potent when it explores the stakes of what it skewers. Sketches like "Last F*ckable Day" and "I'm Sorry" find pain alongside laughter in the ways women, famous or not, are expected or forced to navigate the world. Even when Schumer ventured into the absurd and experimental, the comedy remained grounded in dark truths (see the brilliant "12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer" from season three).

The strongest sketches this season have tapped into this sharp, dark vein of cultural criticism, taking a refreshing break from exploring Schumer's fame. "Welcome to the Gun Show" (episode two) gives us a largely Schumer-less sketch (she appears in avatar form as "clickbait sensation Amy Schumer") introducing a new and convenient "I'm Going To Rape And Kill You" button for Twitter. The fictional VP of Communications (played by Karen Chamberlain) charismatically explains, "Whether it's thumbs up or LOL people enjoy having a shortcut for something they frequently communicate."

Schumer manages to poke fun at the abusers and the digital platforms that enable them, while highlighting victims' vulnerability to easy and relentless online harassment. The VP notes, "Did you know that over 127% of tweets directed at women refer to raping and/or killing them?" This episode's moments of success are only underlined by the episode's blithely cheery opening sketch featuring Schumer and Kyle Dunnigan schilling handguns for a home-shopping network. Like the Twitter sketch, their enthusiasm masks the dark stakes of the violence they’re selling.

In "Brave" (episode three), "Guyggles" reminds us of what Schumer looks like at her best. Schumer literalizes sexist office dynamics. The delightful Claudia O'Doherty pops up to explain that they're "like Google Glass, but they show you the kind of woman the guy in front of you needs you to be . . . Yeah, you know, like flirty victim, spunky kid sister, nurturing mother, but flirty, wounded skank, step-MILF, sexy sex kitten, flirty sex kitten, flirty friend of Mom, manic pixie or Amy Adams". Where a be-Guyggled Schumer sails through the office with ease, the cut to her black female coworker's experience at the end of the sketch delivers its most biting commentary. Insights ranging from "Joshy had a black girlfriend once and thinks he's a hero" to "All lives matter" and "100% racist" short circuit the Guyggles and they both explode.

In sketches like these and absurdist favorites like "Compliments" and "I'm So Bad", Inside Amy Schumer's violence works to dismantle easy positions of privilege and power. These dark fantasies juxtapose familiar rhetoric and the violence they cover over. They point to the precarity and vulnerability of the victims, and that cultural conversations as well as unspoken default norms have very real material consequences for those who aren’t white men. At her best, Schumer has her cake and eats it too, pointing out both the relative safety of privilege as a white, wealthy woman and the (rhetorical and real) violence against women. Schumer's violence works for its victims, and calls out participants and observers in ways that too many other shows fail to do. Schumer's dark, violent sketches make us laugh even as they pack a much-needed gut punch.

This isn’t to say the current season of Inside Amy Schumer isn't funny. She adeptly and hilariously spoofs broad pop culture genres like reality TV in "Katfish" (episode six), and gritty prestige television in "'The Knick' Jr." (episode five).

Schumer's comedy is best, however, when it hurts a little. Too often this season, we're laughing at, rather than with Amy Schumer against the world. Facing what's already become an ugly election in the US, and the social and political unrest around the world, we need Schumer at her best to help us find the humor in what promise to be dark times ahead.

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