Will success spoil Amy Schumer? Judging by the first two episodes of the new season of “Inside Amy Schumer” — the first since her delightful film “Trainwreck” — she remains a potent original, torpedoing gender inequality and smartly dissecting cultural and sexual norms.
And yet, Season 4 of the show also unconsciously struggles with heightened expectations, as this Emmy- and Peabody-winning series not only has to compete with a stellar Season 3 but also the reality of Schumer’s skyrocketing popularity. Still funny without being revelatory, this season may represent a crossroads of sorts: Can the former underdog strike the same rich comedic veins now that she’s a star?
Returning almost exactly a year since the start of Season 3 — which featured A-list cameos as well as daring social commentary folded into parodies of “Friday Night Lights” and “12 Angry Men” — “Inside Amy Schumer” doesn’t significantly alter the show’s appealingly loose structure. Moving between skits, stand-up sets and interview segments, Schumer and her writing team find plenty of funny moments ridiculing everyday sexism and chronicling the unique challenges of being a woman. (You may never look at yogurt the same way.)
Additionally, Schumer continues to develop into a fine actress. With “Trainwreck,” which Schumer also wrote, she evolved beyond clever four-minute sketches to play a nuanced character. But on “Inside Amy Schumer,” she’s back to rendering types with sharp wit. Two of her most familiar roles on the show are a needy girlfriend and a vain, exaggerated version of her “real” self — the yin and yang of insecurity and ego — and the new season gives these guises more opportunity to shine.
But in the first two episodes of this season, the skewering of her newfound fame only results in a protracted, slightly amusing bit in which a clueless Schumer tries to sell “Hamilton” mastermind Lin-Manuel Miranda on an inept musical about Betsy Ross. Compared to Season 3’s premiere episode — which featured a satiric conversation between Schumer and Patricia Arquette, Tina Fey and Julia Louis-Dreyfus about Hollywood’s arbitrary sexism — the Miranda segment may have sounded great on paper but stumbles in the execution.
This season is strongest when Schumer adopts the persona of an ordinary person. One nicely observed sketch imagines a long-term couple’s shared disinterest in having sex as a televised sporting event, while another hyperbolizes the lengths some women go to feel close to their man when he’s out of town. Schumer and her team, who deservedly won the Emmy last year for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series, land solid blows critiquing how the film industry and other businesses denigrate female employees.
But given the high expectations around Schumer’s breakout 2015, the two episodes carry a slight sense of letdown. What made earlier seasons of “Inside Amy Schumer” so stinging and hilarious were Schumer’s confrontations with sexism and distorted media representations of beauty. These weren’t just satiric targets, but everyday realities, and her sardonic, audacious candor made her deeply likeable and gave us a rooting interest.
It’s hardly as if Schumer is free of those old societal stigmas, as proven by her recent frustration with Glamour for labeling her “plus-size.” But, two episodes in, this new season of “Inside Amy Schumer” only once tackles her new celebrity status and how it relates to her thematic interests. In a stand-up segment in which she’s discussing which of her body parts she dislikes, Schumer confides to the crowd, “Oh my god, you guys, don’t feel bad for me. You know I’m, like, very rich now, right?”
It’s a terrific line that’s pure Schumer, delivered with trademark faux-flippancy that provokes a reaction as well as acknowledges a basic truth. That punch line ends the second episode — and hopefully charts the course for where this acerbic, funny show will go next.
“Inside Amy Schumer” returns Thursday at 10/9c on Comedy Central.