This is how shows should come back after a two-week summer vacation: refreshed and ready to be the best version of itself.
As an episode, “Foam” has few bells and whistles. There are no music videos, no Bill Cosby humor, and no A-list comedy guest stars, unless you count Project Runway’s Tim Gunn. Nothing feels like an obvious grab at virality in a season that has otherwise been full of cameos and tweetable moments.
This is a classic episode of Inside Amy Schumer: one commercial parody, four sketches, and one interview. It’s also a very good classic episode of Inside Amy Schumer with great conceits behind the sketches and sharp writing to back them up.
Let’s start with the commercial. One of Schumer’s most admirable comedic talents this season has been dusting off some old targets. Friday Night Lights had been off the air for four years before the brilliant parody in this season’s premiere. And 12 Angry Men? That was 1957 but Schumer knew it could still be mined.
Essentially turning the scene from The Bourne Identity in which Franka Potente cuts and changes the color of her hair into a hair dye commercial—as Schumer does at the start of “Foam”—comes 13 years after what is still the most iconic contemporary iteration of that trope, but it works, and it takes guts these days to aim for something timeless instead of something trendy.
The opening sketch takes aim at all men who overtly hit on a woman but bristle when she casually mentions having a boyfriend. Amy asks her boyfriend to get her a drink, and while he’s away, she learns the brutal lesson that all women must maintain the illusion of absolute sexual availability or suffer the consequences.
“You don’t have to slip in that you have a boyfriend, okay?” her first rejected suitor says. “I was just making casual conversation.”
“Pretty arrogant for a three,” says the next.
Eventually, she stops mentioning her boyfriend altogether in order to evade their hostility but, in true Schumerian reductio ad absurdum fashion, she ends up taking the ruse too far, marrying a man and growing old with him before finally admitting that she has a boyfriend who, by the way, shows up 40 years later with that drink.
Speaking of beverages, the next sketch in which Schumer and a hunky barista wordlessly fall in and out of love through latte art is absurd, silly and sort of beautiful—a nice palate cleanser after one of the season’s more incisive sketches.
Schumer’s critique of Disney princess mythology in the next sketch brings back some of the episode’s edge while holding on to the playfulness. The sketch skewers the entitlement underlying the Cinderella fantasy—“I deserve this castle,” Amy sings, after being lifted out of poverty into a beautiful gown—but it’s the joy of hearing that painfully clever, almost too on the nose Inside Amy writing coming out of Tim Gunn’s mouth that makes the sketch itself sing.
“Amy, I’m Willenby, your royal attaché. It’s time you knew the truth. You’re not a disgusting filthy commoner at all,” Gunn says, with his characteristic vocal affectations.
For some reason, his indecipherable name comes up later in the sketch—“As sure as my name is Willenby,” he promises Amy, when she asks him whether or not the babies she has with her first cousin-slash-prince will undergo genetic mutations—and for all the sketch’s smarts, it’s this single, zany detail that sets it apart from some past sketches that got the job done without having quite enough fun doing it. There’s been a buoyancy to season three, a sign that Schumer is hitting her stride and soaking in the scenery, and it’s present throughout these playful moments with Gunn.
The last sketch, in which a self-obsessed version of Amy blithely waxes on about her celebrity non-problems (like having “too much money”) to a therapist who just lost both her parents in a fire “that they may have started,” is more standard fare. The privileged, prescription-abusing, fame-obsessed side of Amy has been explored many times before. But Kathy Najimy (King of the Hill, Veep) as the weepy shrink is one of the stronger guest stars this season, if one of the least recognizable by name.
As the season approaches its close, let’s hope that this episode is what the already-ordered fourth season of Inside Amy looks like. The show may have hit its zeitgeist moment this season, controlling the Twitter water cooler and commanding the hottest guest stars. But it’s a relief to know that Schumer can still produce top-notch sketch comedy without topical bits and shiny distractions.
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.