The problem with reviewing a comedy like Inside Amy Schumer is that one sketch is released in advanced every week and then every entertainment writer in the world is assigned to write about how “perfectly” it parodies something or how expertly it “skewers” a certain cultural phenomenon. By the time the episode airs, I’ve been so bombarded by messages about how amazing the featured sketch is and how deep its social critique cuts that I feel predisposed to hate it, if only out of spite. The challenge then becomes keeping that irrational anger at bay while still maintaining a healthy skepticism toward the bit.
Such was my struggle with the titular sketch of “Babies and Bustiers,” lauded well in advance of last night’s airing as a perfect parody of TLC’s Toddlers & Tiaras. I wanted to love the sketch, if only because the image of Amy Schumer dressed as Honey Boo Boo hits that difficult-to-reach sweet spot between repulsive and hilarious. It’s a visual that actually does some sophisticated comedic work, too: By transposing the prematurely adult way we dress children for pageants onto a bona fide adult, Schumer makes herself look as twisted as pageant life itself.
The sketch struggles to move beyond these sight gags, helped along by a fantastic guest appearance by Jennifer Coolidge (American Pie, Best in Show) as Amy’s controlling pageant mom Cleopatricia Sherman. The evening’s best line belongs to Coolidge and involves the phrase “python terrarium”—need I say more? But overall, parodying something like Toddlers & Tiaras feels futile given the inherent ridiculousness of the show. Like Howard Dean, the Slanket, or a KFC Double Down, child beauty pageant culture is already a parody of itself. That’s the reason why anyone even watches Toddlers & Tiaras in the first place.
The only parts of the sketch that move beyond the physical comedy of watching Schumer dance among and hang out with toddlers are, first, the explanation for why a full-grown Amy is in a child beauty pageant—she has “Fetal Red Bull Syndrome,” which is basically the condition that Robin Williams has in Jack—and second, the explanation for why her father is played by a child actor—he has “Benjamin Button’s disease.” The two of them locked in serious conversation in a women’s bathroom at the end of the sketch is a funny and bizarrely beautiful scene that almost makes the buildup to it worthwhile.
But this week’s episode is also weighed down by the opening fake ad for “Swanks,” a torturous undergarment that pushes a woman’s breast fat down into her butt so she can comply with the same asstastic beauty standards that Schumer already touched on in “Milk, Milk, Lemonade.” Revisiting a particular theme in a more refined way a season or so later is one thing—let’s not forget that the brilliant “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer” is basically an expansion of last season’s “Focus Group”—but doing a worse version of the same cold open you did a mere five episodes ago is a baffling choice.
Luckily, the episode is saved by some sharp writing in the other two sketches, one a parody of overzealous dog moms who are obnoxiously proud of the plights of their rescue animals, the other a smart commentary on the subtle rage that lurks beneath affluent wives’ and mothers’ dreams of escaping their quotidian lives. In the first sketch, one of the moms announces that one of the dogs “was a child dog soldier and was abandoned by the Bedouin militia when they found out he was gay.” In the latter, a mom who is fed up with her children’s television viewing habits confesses that she thinks about “tracking down Dora creator Valerie Walsh Valdes, Clockwork Orange-ing her eyes open, and making her watch video of my kids singing that lazy atonal theme song until she cries blood.” It’s these clever multi-layered lines that give this episode a leg up on last week’s less writerly outing.
In fact, now that we’re just past the mid-season point, it’s clear that Inside Amy Schumeris still experiencing some pretty drastic swings in quality based primarily on the relative complexity of the writing. Episodes with one-note sketches have floundered no matter the innate humor of the premise but the 12 Angry Men schtick and the tightly crafted premiere featuring “Football Town Nights” have easily been some of the best comedy on television this year. Perfectly skewering something isn’t reliably funny in and of itself. Skewering something with a silver tongue? That’s a different story.
Samantha Allen is the Internet’s premier alpaca enthusiast as well as a Daily Beast contributor. Follow her on Twitter.