Let’s be honest. This season of Inside Amy Schumer was uneven at best. There’s no doubt it was the worst in the show’s history. The first couple of episodes seemed comparable to previous seasons but, by the midway point, it was clear that something had gone terribly wrong. For four straight weeks, the show’s audience shrunk to below 600,000 viewers—smaller than any point in the show’s history. The same critics who have heaped praise on the show in the past—myself included—started to turn on the show. We didn’t want to give it a tongue-lashing—I don’t relish writing takedowns of a show centered on one of my favorite performers—but it’s impossible to pretend like the show hasn’t taken a dramatic left turn into the realm of the unfunny.
What worries me now is that the show has already been renewed for a fifth season. In fact, the renewal was announced all the way back in January, when we had no idea that season four would turn out this way. I expected a minor dip in quality as Schumer branched out into other high-profile projects, but nothing quite so noticeable as this. I’ve said before that I think the show can come back from this low point. It’s rare but not completely unprecedented for an already-mature comedy to bounce back—I’d make the argument that New Girl falls into that company, although sitcoms and sketch shows are different beasts—and I’m sure Inside Amy Schumer can be one of them. Structurally speaking, all the pieces are in place to restore the show to its former glory and the flashes of brilliance this season prove that there’s still amazing talent working on the show.
That said, here’s how Inside Amy Schumer can stage a comeback:
The show’s constant meta-dialogue about Amy Schumer’s brand-new superstar status is weighing it down. A sketch or two about being megafamous would have been fine but stand-up about doing a photoshoot with Annie Leibovitz and four sketches about famous people problems was way too much. I understand that Schumer might have felt obligated to address the topic, especially given the specific pressures that female celebrities are under. But we fell in love with the show in the first place because of how relatable the humor was, and how willing Schumer was to lean into the role of overlooked everywoman. There’s no reason why she can’t be that woman again, even if she has to forget how rich she is to do it. Louis C.K. is one of the most successful comedians in the world but he still plays a sad sack on his sitcom and we still buy it. In season five, Schumer should intentionally ignore her fame and get on with the show.
I complained about the show’s guest star overload last week but after Andy Cohen showed up in the finale, it’s worth repeating: send your famous friends home, Amy Schumer, and let experienced comics take center stage. SNL only works because they surround non-comedic actors with a troupe of hand-picked comedic talent, and even then that show often falls flat. Season four of Inside Amy Schumer, on the other hand, has been drowning in celebrities from Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda to Questlove to Lena Dunham to Jake Gyllenhaal. Experienced series regulars have had to take a backseat to whatever major name could swing by the set that week. Some guest appearances were more successful than others, of course, but generally speaking, the show could have been fine without any of them. And if the goal was to increase viewership with big-name guest appearances, that apparently didn’t work. Come season five, I hope that Schumer and crew find the restraint to pare down the guest roles.
The Australian Love star was a bright spot in an otherwise dull season of Inside Amy Schumer. From her appearance in the “Guyggles” sketch to her starring role as a snake doctor to her spokeswoman role in the tampon-hiding saxophone parody commercial, O’Doherty brought a huge smile to my face everytime she popped up in the middle of an episode. Honestly, it’s time for O’Doherty to have her own show. Her talent is undeniable as is her charm. It’s not just the accent—it’s her ability to simultaneously be in on the joke while still slyly winking at it from the outside. But if network executives make the mistake of passing O’Doherty over for her own vehicle next year, I hope the Inside Amy Schumer team gives her even more to do in season five.
“Closer to You” was easily a highlight of a dull season. The music video took the trope of a woman wearing her boyfriend’s dress shirt to its logical extreme by showing Amy packing a pickle in her boyfriend’s briefs, masturbating to his pornography, and scarfing his spaghetti out of the trash. It recalled memorable season three music videos like “Milk, Milk, Lemonade” and “Girl, You Don’t Need Makeup.” Season four could have done with one more song like “Closer to You.” Unfortunately, the season’s only other music video was a lyrically-funny but underproduced number about women being perfect no matter the heinous things they do, like “claim[ing] a miscarriage when no pregnancy occurred.” The song itself was terrific, but in a bizarre choice, the only visuals to accompany it were Schumer and her famous friends like Amber Tamblyn lip-syncing to it in a bar while a karaoke ball bounced across the lyrics at the bottom of the screen. The song would have been a hit if it had actually illustrated “lying to a doctor to score Ritalin” instead of just lazily displaying the words. If season five is going to improve, it needs to not half-ass the things that make the show great.
Sex and comedy are natural partners. Sex is inherently hilarious, sometimes gross, and yet the vast majority of us want it, consume media about it, and feel the need to laugh at it. Sex is the biggest open secret there is, which is part of why Inside Amy Schumer took off in its first three seasons. Turns out there was a huge appetite for a sketch comedy largely about sex, dating, and gender politics, all told from the point-of-view of a sexually-active woman who’s not afraid to say the word “pussy.” Season four has strayed from the show’s initial formula. I counted only one bedroom sketch. And yes, Schumer skewered Republican congressmen for their control over women’s reproductive rights but otherwise, the show has been too busy with guest stars and fame sketches to really land any huge feminist moments. The marriage of sex and comedy aren’t going anywhere. Their intersection is still an inexhaustible well of humor. Season five of Inside Amy Schumer needs to return to that well for its sake and for ours.
May Saunders is a professional dog walker living in Minneapolis and an occasional freelance writer. In her spare time, she enjoys hanging out with her cat, who does not need to be walked. Follow her on Twitter.