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‘Inside Amy Schumer’ Season 5 Review: Sketch Series’ Long-Awaited Return Is Silly and Familiar

Six and a half years after the show’s last episode, Amy Schumer’s sketch series is back as she tackles the topical and the silly in equal measure

Should “Inside Amy Schumer” Season 5 be considered a legacy revival? While the show’s time off the air hasn’t been quite as extensive as later-season revivals like “Arrested Development” or “The X-Files,” six and a half years can feel like an eternity in popular and political culture, especially when accompanied by a worldwide pandemic. Schumer herself must be particularly aware of the fullness of this time; when Season 4 of the show debuted in spring 2016, she was fresh off a big hit movie “Trainwreck” and a moment in the cultural zeitgeist; an ongoing Comedy Central sketch series seemed almost charmingly small-scale for such an ascendant star.

Since then, she’s starred in two more broad big-screen comedies, made her Broadway debut in Steve Martin’s “Meteor Shower,” given an underseen but excellent performance in “The Humans,” written and directed her Hulu series “Life & Beth,” co-hosted the Oscars, gotten married and had a child. Yet she’s also had to sacrifice some of her heat to the usual cultural backlashes, some of her Hollywood clout to movies that weren’t as big or beloved as “Trainwreck,” and, in her telling, some of her sketch-writing mojo to the grimness of a decidedly anti-feminist Trump presidency. Has the culture — and the merciless streaming-TV economy — moved on from the buzziest sketch-comedy series of a decade ago?

If so, it could be a blessing in disguise for “Inside Amy Schumer,” allowing the series to continue on without the baggage of being the next big Amy Schumer project. The first two episodes of the new fifth season, produced for Paramount+ rather than former home Comedy Central, have both inspired silliness and angry bite — sometimes co-existing, sometimes sequestered into separate sketches. Schumer and her rotating writers and performers (the show does not have a regular on-screen ensemble) are still able to satirize views and performances of American femininity with both accuracy and heightened absurdity, like a first-episode scene where Schumer, Bridget Everett, Olivia Munn and Cazzie David express the Instagram-ready “gratitude” that won’t allow them to undergo any cosmetic procedures (except, of course, the ones they proceed to detail that don’t count). There’s similar escalation to a second-episode bit about new forms of the “shapewear” Spanx and how it encourages women to feel abject shame over their bodies.

There are times, though, when Schumer seems to be aiming for the kind of approval-based clapter (jokes that inspire approving applause more than gut-instinct laughs) that’s become stock in trade for commentary shows. A fake tourism ad for Colorado, predicated on the idea that people from nearby states will be traveling to a place where abortion remains legal, is sharp and clever, like the kind of thing found at the end of John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight”… and a little one-note, like, well, the kind of thing found at the end of “Last Week Tonight.”

There are a few segments that could, theoretically, balance this out with gentle silliness. The previous incarnation of “Inside Amy Schumer” strived to showcase performers Schumer just happened to really enjoy, and both episodes provided for review included handmade-looking music videos for ditties from veteran comedy writer Ron Weiner, who has credits on “30 Rock,” “Futurama,” and “Arrested Development” and whose work here recalls Bruce McCulloch’s songs from “Kids in the Hall.” Weiner’s songs are amusing, but fall a little flat next to Schumer’s best material; it’s a promising change of pace from previous seasons’ stand-up and interview segments, but one that hasn’t fully paid off yet.

So it’s up to other sketches to balance out the more chilling bits about abortion and campus safety –and some of those, like the silly but perhaps self-satisfied “Fart Park,” aren’t as fully imagined as the show at its best. The latter is represented by sketches like the very first one of the season, an instant classic that starts as an ad for mood-altering medication before following an increasingly dark tangent about Schumer’s newfound pottery habit.

The original show’s unspoken conceit, that Schumer will play a variety of characters all named Amy, alternately riffing on her own shortcomings and the way that society fails and alienates women, remains a terrific vehicle for Schumer’s sensibility — perhaps even moreso than her first love, stand-up. At the time of the show’s initial hiatus, it made sense that she wanted to focus on other projects; now, it seems strange that it ever went away.

“Inside Amy Schumer” Season 5 premieres Oct. 20 on Paramount+ with new episodes every Thursday.