All this week, we’re presenting the Vulture TV Awards, honoring the best in television from the past year.
The nominees are:
Orange Is the New Black
Inside Amy Schumer
And the Best Comedy is …
Inside Amy Schumer
Inside Amy Schumer is the funniest show on TV, and consistently one of the best made and most aesthetically surprising. It’s also one of the only current comedy programs that deserves to be called important — although, admittedly, it takes a bit of convincing to get people to accept that adjective when it’s being applied to a series whose most vivid recent bits have the star flirting with a talk-show host by climbing up on the couch to show off her cocktail-dress-wrapped bum, driving the studio audience’s nerd contingent into a frenzy of masturbation by insisting that her favorite movie is Star Wars, then getting drenched by a tsunami of spoo.
Like South Park and Key & Peele — the only topical comedy programs that rival Inside Amy Schumer in both audacity and craft — this one is exciting partly because of the exploding-cigar factor: You watch the show expecting it to blow up in the host’s face, or yours. But Amy wins for sheer consistency. The worst stuff in season three is better than almost any sketch-comedy material on TV right now, and the best stuff is Monty Python–caliber: at once satirically on-point and truly, deeply mad. Much has been made of Schumer as a heroine for call-out culture, and she absolutely is that. The show investigates and often demolishes stereotypes that amplify women’s (and often men’s) insecurities. The most brilliant of these was a panel discussion among high-achieving women who reflexively deferred to men, ran themselves down, and apologized for everything (including getting accidentally scalded by coffee). But there have been other subtler triumphs. I’m partial to the “Say Fine to the Shirt” sketch, which identified and labeled a particular type of 21st-century American bro — the scruffy, undemonstrative, mumbling commitment-phobe who can’t stop staring at his phone — only to show that this fool, too, was a prisoner of gender, and could be moved to cathartic tears by the right shirt.
Season three’s creative peak was probably that amazing half-hour-long black-and-white 12 Angry Men parody, a retort to a Hollywood blogger who said Schumer wasn’t hot enough to be on TV. Its extreme length and meticulous period-filmmaking touches gave it an intriguing obsessive quality, as did the way that it tied all the naysaying jury members’ reservations back to adolescent sexual insecurities and their unquestioning absorption of faddish ideas of sexiness. (I love that it pointed out that Marilyn Monroe, the Paul Giamatti character’s sexual ideal, was a size 8, while Schumer is a size 6 — though not as much as I love Giamatti snarling the phrase, “pinecone pussy!”) That Schumer was killing a housefly with a sledgehammer only made the episode more thrilling, because it meant that at long last, a funny woman had gained possession of a sledgehammer.
But it would be reductive to praise Schumer’s show only for its political content. It has polemic elements, but the show itself isn’t a polemic. It’s a blast from the id, filled with sketches that seem to be going in one direction but then pivot again and again, often ending with conceptual detonations, like the Russian male-order groom sketch that ends with Amy’s Ambien fantasy that her new hubby is a merman, or the send-up of entitled suburban married ladies who all fantasize about opening a bakery in Maine (“Jam is mah jam!” one peals), only to transform, Old Testament style, into pillars of salt. Probably half of the sketches in season three contain elements that Go Too Far for some people (though, of course, your mileage will vary). This, too, is a good thing. It means nobody is safe from the writing staff’s withering gaze, even women who adopt rescue dogs and sound a tad martyrlike, or inadvertently confessional, as they tell the animals’ stories. (“My dog has severe body-image issues. You should see the way she looks at herself.”)
Inside Amy Schumer was strong right out of the gate, but over time it has grown in precision and audacity. Season three is the best-written and -directed season yet, and Schumer’s confidence as a performer has grown, too. She’s warm, funny, but unsentimental in the interview segments, and she throws herself into characters with an abandon that evokes Carol Burnett as Scarlett O’Hara descending the stairs in a dress with curtain-rod shoulders. You could put her photo in the dictionary next to shameless. For a belly-laugh comedian, there is no higher praise.