'Inside Amy Schumer' is back after 6 years. Does it still work? – Los Angeles Times

'Inside Amy Schumer' is back after 6 years. Does it still work? – Los Angeles Times

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Once upon a time in the music business, it was normal for a band to put out two records a year. Then, as budgets went wild and groups wrote albums in the studio, they might‘ve started taking a year or two to deliver the next. Then, as schedules were filled with solo albums or touring or getting off the drugs they got on making that last record, it became customary for major artists to spend several years between releases, without anyone calling it a comeback or a reunion.
Likewise, in the olden days of television, series were not only prompt in delivering new seasons, but the seasons ran so long that the shows took only the summer off, spelled by reruns or “summer replacements.” They were hardly gone at all. In the new, short-run TV economy — and lately amplified by the pandemic — absence is usual. It’s true that one greets some slow-to-return series with the same surprise as finding out that a celebrity you had believed dead turns out to be living; but at other times, especially when a show lives large in your mind, you think, “Well, that’s just how long it takes.”
This week, two long-in-returning, and for some long-awaited, oddball comedies come back to television. It has been three and a half years since the last season of “Documentary Now!” (Wednesday, IFC) and six and a half since a new episode of “Inside Amy Schumer” (Thursday, Paramount+). Neither series could be called mainstream, though the former, created by Bill Hader, Fred Armisen, Seth Meyers and director Rhys Thomas, attracts top talent, and the latter was the springboard for Schumer’s bigger-time career.
Schumer has kept busy in the interim, with movies and other television series — including her quasi-autobiographical romantic comedy “Life and Beth,” “Amy Schumer Learns to Cook” and the difficult-pregnancy documentary “Expecting Amy,” as well as a couple of comedy specials and a recent, memorable appearance as “herself” in the second season of “Only Murders in the Building.” She also finished a memoir, co-hosted the Oscars, got married and had a baby.
Because she had been under contract for a fifth season of “Inside Amy Schumer” all those years, this is not even technically a revival, notwithstanding a change of venue, to Paramount+. (Episodes will later air on its earlier home, corporate cousin Comedy Central.) First envisioned as a string of five specials, they have been drawn, quite sensibly, into a close-quartered season. Fans will find the same puckish feminist flavor as before, with perhaps a few more politically pointed punchlines. (Not surprising, given the times.) These can seem a little obvious — as in a Hallmark Christmas movie parody, in which busy city person Ellie Kemper, called home for the holidays, remembers why she left her small town, or a Texas-set horror movie — without necessarily killing the bit. A “Come to Colorado” promotional piece — for its access to abortion, it is never explicitly stated — is nearly a PSA, if a worthwhile one.
There are sketches about body image, as imposed on women by society (an extended riff on Spanx) and by women upon themselves (“I love me, I just wanted to add more of me to me”), and collegiate sexual assault. That isn’t to call the show doctrinaire. At its best, Schumer’s work goes off on unexpected tangents, as when what begins as a sunny ad for psoriasis medicine veers off into domestic drama when Schumer’s character, having made a horrible ceramic cup, considers giving up being a judge to open a pottery shop. (“Warning: Flatuda may cause overconfidence in women.”) And then there is the second episode’s titular sketch, “Fart Park” — like a dog park, but for people wishing to break wind out of doors in a “judgement-free,” “COVID-friendly” space — which pivots in extremely short order from a weird idea, to a rom-com, to a police procedural, to a literary success.
The new season does not exactly replicate the earlier ones, which along with the sketches featured short stand-up bits and interview segments with interesting ordinary folks that revealed Schumer as an engaged, curious person. Here, the sketches are accompanied less effectively by short “behind the scenes” comments from Schumer and her team. And each of the two episodes available for review ends with a half-animated music video featuring writer Ron Weiner singing his own songs, which suggest familiarity with They Might Be Giants.

Given the demands of its production, which involves a variety of locations, the creation of props and ephemera and meticulous attention to detail, it’s hardly surprising that “Documentary Now!” has taken a while to launch its fourth season. Framed as a public television anthology, ostensibly in its 53rd season, with a straight-faced Helen Mirren back again as host, it highlights great documentaries from across film history. (The first season included a parody of Robert Flaherty’s 1922 “Nanook of the North.”)
Early episodes featured Hader and Armisen extensively; the new season finds Hader out of sight and Armisen in a few small parts, behind an international guest cast that includes Cate Blanchett and Harriet Walter working in a salon in the north of England (“Two Hairdressers in Bagglyport”), Alexander Skarsgård standing in for Werner Herzog (“Soldier of Illusion”) and Liliane Rovère for Agnès Varda (“Trouver Frisson,” all in French). There’s even a complement of authentic Welshmen — including Jonathan Pryce, John Rhys-Davies and, wait for it, Tom Jones — in “How They Threw Rocks,” a Wales-set variation on the Muhammad Ali documentary “When We Were Kings.”
Most episodes take off specifically from an actual documentary, and it’s obviously a bonus to be familiar with the source material in order to appreciate the formal jokes and audio-visual perfection of the cracked re-creations — to recognize that the two-part opener, “Soldier of Illusion,” is modeled on Les Blank’s “Burden of Dreams,” about Werner Herzog’s troubled production of “Fitzcarraldo”; or to have seen Jean-Luc Godard’s “Bande à Part” and so to nod approvingly when characters in an Agnès Varda-inspired episode go into a dance. (It would be good too to have seen an Agnès Varda documentary.)
And yet it is not at all necessary. While full of specific references, each episode is dramatically coherent and unerringly funny in its own right. (The premise of “Soldier of Illusion,” written by John Mulaney and set in the early 1980s, is that the Herzog stand-in is at once directing a documentary on the Dushkir people of the Ural Mountains and making a CBS comedy pilot, “Bachelor Nanny,” “the story of a single guy who after agreeing to take in his sister’s twin newborns had to juggle babies and babes.”) If there is a fine line between stupid and clever, as Michael McKean’s David St. Hubbins observed in that long-haired daddy of mockumentaries “Spinal Tap,” there is also a line between smart and merely clever, and “Documentary Now!” falls on the side of smart — while also being, enthusiastically, more than a little silly.

‘Inside Amy Schumer’

Where: HBO Max and Paramount Plus

When: Any time

Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)

‘Documentary Now!’

Where: IFC

When: Wednesday, 10 p.m.

Where: AMC Plus

When: Any time

Where: Amazon Prime, any time before Nov. 1

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)

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Robert Lloyd has been a Los Angeles Times television critic since 2003.
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