Welcome back to Comedy Central, Amy Schumer — although as the comic has noted in a trailer for the new season, premiering tonight, it’s not exactly like she’s been off the radar on her down time.
There is novelty of a certain sort here, though. Four seasons in, Schumer’s voice feels more assured than ever. The show is still a mixed bag. Not every sketch hits, but the ones that do feel like worthy successors to now-classics like "Last Fuckable Day" and "Girl, You Don’t Need Makeup." The subtle, noticeable shift, however, is that more of her humor seems more outwardly directed at society’s fucked-up messages to women, and less interested in their own self-hatred.
The first two episodes, "The World’s Most Interesting Woman in the World" and "Brave," are full of barbed jabs at the status quo, occasionally referencing Schumer’s own public experiences. She includes a clip of her standup about having done a nearly-nude photo shoot with Annie Leibovitz, which is where the title of the second episode comes from; as Schumer says, "brave" is the last word you want to hear bandied about when a photo of your nude body starts circulating online. The title of the first episode, meanwhile, is a parody of those Dos Equis beer ads, with Schumer playing a raspy-voiced woman who’s eventually hauled away to "Clementine Hospice Care for Women Who Live Like Men."
The best sketch in each episode is the one taking the strong stance on institutional sexism. One sketch in "Brave" is Oscars-themed, and though it feels a little too late, it nails a fundamental truth about female film roles that remains under-discussed: Every woman nominated for Best Actress in this sketch (including Julianne Moore, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jennifer Hudson and Laura Linney — at this point, who CAN’T Schumer get?) is playing a man’s agonized wife, on the phone imploring him to come home.
The other notable statement sketch is an explicit f-you to anti-choice politicians, with Amy going in for a pap smear and ending up with her feet in stirrups in front of a galley of squeamish male congressmen. It’s up there with her commercial for the pill or the "12 Angry Men" parody, taking dead aim at the absurdity of a culture in which men still assume ownership of female bodies.
But the crown jewel of the first two episodes is, without a doubt, "Yo-Puss," the ad for yogurt that "makes your pussy taste like nothing!" Simultaneously a satire of the products that still, incredibly, exist to make women think they need to sterilize their genitals and a send-up of the ubiquitous "women laughing and eating yogurt" ads, it’s one of Schumer’s best. God knows how they made it through with straight faces (though an outtake at the end suggests it took a while).
Not everything works. Schumer gets Lin-Manuel Miranda to guest for a sketch about writing a Betsy Ross hip-hop musical, and it really falls surprisingly flat. Another recurring one, about a company dedicated to finding a nanny that your husband won’t want to sleep with, feels reductive in a lazy way (or as Schumer puts it, "Because: men.") I get it; there have been a few recent stories about celebrity men who did just this, so I suppose it’s fair game, but the sketch goes on to ridiculous lengths, like one of those "SNL" scenes that should have stopped at one minute and ran to five.
Another sketch, about "Guy-gles" that show a woman how to speak to men in her office to get results ("Needs to know you’d fuck him;" "Needs you to laugh at his jokes like it’s your fucking job"), is just as broad but funnier — and with a good racial zinger at the end (what the race goggles reveal is so overwhelming they immediately short out).
Schumer is also shaking up the show’s format a bit, forgoing her man-on-the-street interviews for casual chats with friends at what seems like a party for the show at a bar. This one’s a win, I think: Her comedian friends are just plain funnier than random people she accosts with a microphone (especially Judy Gold and Rachel Feinstein; more of these two, please!). She also devotes an entire sketch to guys in a parody of fantasy leagues where football players rate the performance of average guys in the "Schlubb League." It’s not brilliant, but it’s interesting to see Schumer hand over the spotlight for a bit.
In all, "Inside Amy Schumer" is still on top of its game, with a higher laugh average than most sketch shows. I’m hoping she’ll eventually address the "plus sized" kerfuffle that ensued recently, but I’m guessing we’ll have to wait for season five for that.