Amy Schumer’s comedic stature is a lot like the glass of white wine she’s constantly holding as a high school football coach’s wife in last night’s parody of Friday Night Lights: it has slowly gotten bigger and bigger until it has become impossible to ignore. Schumer has been performing on TV in some capacity since 2007, but if last night’s season premiere of Inside Amy Schumer is any indication, she’s finally ready to seize the spotlight.
The first two seasons of Inside Amy Schumer have produced some excellent sketches about sex, gender and dating—“A Very Realistic Military Game” and “Sexting” come to mind—but last night’s season premiere has an underlying confidence to it that feels new and welcome. The show has been steadily improving since season one but with the third season premiere, it has finally crossed the threshold from good to essential.
It’s not that the format has been overhauled. The basic recipe of sketches, stand-up, man-on-the-street bits and “Amy Goes Deep” interviews remains unchanged. But all of the show’s key ingredients—its perversity, its crassness, its willingness to follow our absurd cultural notions about sex to their logical conclusions—are fresher and more pronounced.
The premiere opens strong with “Milk, Milk, Lemonade,” a deconstruction of the booty anthem co-starring Amber Rose and Method Man that has already made the YouTube rounds. The visual gags—like Schumer and crew dancing in front of a row of stalls as toilet paper streams behind them—justify the show spending three minutes on the joke that pop stars have spent the last year literally singing the praises of the place where “poop comes out.”
From there, it’s on to “Football Town Nights,” in which Josh Charles plays the new head coach of the Bronconeers, a high school football team that takes serious issue with his controversial “no raping” rule. Those who are understandably averse to any humor involving rape or sexual assault should steer clear of this sketch as well as Schumer’s previous work, but for those who aren’t, it acts as a brilliant deconstruction of victim-blaming attitudes.
Schumer once told Elle, “I would never just make a rape joke to make a rape joke. It needs to have a point and be really funny.”
In this case, the punchlines are both funny and pointed. In the sketch’s best scene, the players spend hours trotting out excuses for rape only to have Charles repeatedly refuse them: “What if it’s Halloween and she’s dressed like a sexy cat?” “What if she thinks it’s rape but I don’t?” “What if the girl says yes and then she changes her mind out of nowhere like a crazy person?”
In the next sketch, Amy stumbles onto a magical picnic being held by Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Patricia Arquette to celebrate the Veep star’s “Last F*ckable Day,” the day when an actress is “not believably fuckable anymore” in the media’s eyes. At the start of the bit, they invite her to sit down with them and it’s hard not to see the gesture as symbolic: Schumer is hesitant at first but with a Peabody under her belt, she’s prepared to take her place at the more mainstream table.
“Who tells men when it’s their last fuckable day?” Schumer asks the group, to uproarious laughter.
A fake commercial for a birth control pill lampooning the uncomfortable truth that women typically need the permission of men to receive contraception is a more standard Schumer bit, one that is quickly superseded by the surprising appearance of transgender porn actress Bailey Jay in the closing “Amy Goes Deep” interview.
The conversation with Jay isn’t perfect—in many ways, it’s the antithesis of Katie Couric’s infamous interview of Laverne Cox interview in which the Orange is the New Black star calls out Couric’s invasive questions, with Schumer and Jay talking openly about the latter’s decision to keep her penis. But it’s a refreshingly honest and genuinely funny conversation on a channel where trans people are often made into the butt—or as Schumer might say, the “fudge machine”—of its jokes. For an uninformed audience, there’s a certain value in hearing bad questions get asked and answered.
At one point in the interview, Schumer stumbles, asking Jay whether or not her husband considered himself to be straight before he met her. Jay corrects her, pointing out that marrying a trans woman doesn’t make him anything other than heterosexual. It’s brave television and the perfect capstone to a season premiere that has set a high bar for the new and improved Amy Schumer.
Samantha Allen is the Internet’s premier alpaca enthusiast as well as a Daily Beast contributor. Follow her on Twitter.