“12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer” is not a parody of 12 Angry Men so much as it is a remake with a twist. All of the little set details are dutifully reproduced: the cone water cups, the broken fan, the coat nook behind the foreman. But instead of debating the innocence of a boy accused of murdering his own father, the jurors—played by a who’s who of male comics and comedic actors—must decide whether or not Amy Schumer is hot enough to be on TV.
I won’t reveal their verdict—if you’ve seen 12 Angry Men, you know it already—but here’s a verdict of my own: “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer” is guilty of being the best episode of the series yet.
If you haven’t seen the original 12 Angry Men, watch it for your own cultural edification and even if you have, watch it again. Then watch this episode and if you don’t come to the same conclusion about its quality as I did, I’ll deliberate in a hot room with you for two hours and give you my best Henry Fonda stare until you agree with me.
This episode eschews the typical segmented format of Inside Amy in favor of the single nineteen-minute-long remake punctuated by a few act breaks. Tacked on at the end is a brief man-on-the-street bit in which Schumer seems incredulous at the fact that Comedy Central allowed her to remake a 1957 classic film that most of her viewers have probably only seen in a social studies class.
It does kind of feel like Schumer’s team got away with something here. In this age of rapid-fire sketches and viral video bits, it’s rare for comedy like this to actually get a chance to breathe. If the remake were condensed into five minutes, it would make a clever sketch but, as an episode, it gets extra points for moving at a deliberate pace?something that most 2015 comedies apart from, say, the series premiere of Last Man on Earth, have been either too afraid or too constrained to pull off.
The only comparison I can make to this episodes’ risk-taking and absolute dedication to the bit would be season three of Community but, even at its peak, that show never executed a genre episode this perfectly. Whether he was aping Goodfellas, G.I. Joe cartoons, Law & Order, or Ken Burns documentaries, showrunner Dan Harmon still had to wrap his pre-existing set of characters and meta-narratives around the template so that his show still made some sort of diegetic sense.
But Inside Amy—with a green light from Comedy Central and all the narrative freedom the sketch format affords—can simply drop Paul Giamatti, Jeff Goldblum, Nick DiPaolo, Kumail Nanjiani and others into a pop-up universe and let them dig into one-time roles. The episode also features some terrific shot-for-shot direction brought to you by Schumer and Ryan McFaul, who co-directed the episode, and the writing team (headed by Jessi Klein) has never been sharper.
My advice: savor this episode because it shouldn’t—and probably almost didn’t—exist.
The cast certainly relished the opportunity to be a part of it, judging from the energy they bring to their respective parts. Nick DiPaolo’s brashness is put to good use in his role as the juror most disgusted by Schumer’s appearance (Juror #3 if you’re familiar with the source material). Deadwood’s John Hawkes is perfectly cast as the Fonda stand-in who sets out to persuade his peers that Schumer, while not hot, is still “bangable.”
“Look, we’ve all at some point in our lives gotten a semi for a girl with a pillowy stomach or Muppet tits,” he announces to the room, straight-faced, “and that’s all the system demands for us to acquit Amy.”
Kumail Nanjiani almost steals the episode with a quip about dildos (which, incidentally, replace the switchblades in one of the most famous scenes from 12 Angry Men). But it’s Giamatti who proves to be most game for the premise, delivering diatribes about Schumer’s “potato face” without a shred of irony. At one point, he reads the words “pine cone pussy” off of her set list with all the impotent derision he can muster and it’s beautiful.
The episode’s message—that women must meet absurdly high and hypocritical standards of beauty to appear on television—is so intertwined with these amazing performances that the episode never feels overly moralistic, a tone that’s certainly present in the original 12 Angry Men and that can sometimes be Inside Amy’s Achilles heel.
Above all, the episode hints at an untapped creative energy behind the show that we’re only just beginning to glimpse. After an amazing premiere and a passable second episode, I was ready to accuse Schumer and company of front-loading their best material this season. But judging from this outing, Amy Schumer may not want to be sentenced to a format. I hope she gets to break free from it again.