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Return of 'Inside Amy Schumer' is welcome, even when it's inconsistent

Amy Schumer in a scene from "Inside Amy Schumer" season 5.
Matt Wilson/Paramount +
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Paramount +
Amy Schumer in a scene from "Inside Amy Schumer" season 5.

After watching two episodes of the Inside Amy Schumer revival on Paramount+, I had a couple of reactions:

I'm glad Schumer is bringing her voice back for a fifth season of her Peabody and Emmy award-winning sketch show, just when pop culture and comedy need another strong, female-centered voice.

And I wish she had come back with stronger material.

As it is, the skits which fill the new version of Inside Amy Schumer too often feel like undercooked ideas which may have started as a funny line pitched by somebody in a writers' room. Or something somebody thought of while they were walking down the street on the way to that pitch meeting.

Looking for laughs in "Fart Park"

That's how I felt watching "Fart Park," a parody of pet and kid-friendly park spaces that features an area where people can, um, expel certain personal gases without judgement. Of course, it ends in a murder when somebody doesn't follow the rules – kinda like a sketch thought up by a 5-year-old and scripted by an immature older sibling.

Another sketch features Schumer as a contestant on an unscripted dating show, asked to re-record things she said on camera that weren't completely captured by the microphone in the moment. When Schumer's character realizes she said stuff like she hopes her competitors get COVID and "the Jews are trying to replace us," she rethinks her participation.

The takeaway – that dating shows are built around encouraging people to behave badly in ways they regret later – is obvious and not necessarily worth a full-on sketch.

"Reality dating shows are bad for women," Schumer says, speaking to the camera after the sketch ends. "They're bad for men. And I will watch them all until I die." It's a great line; I just wish the sketch had explored the idea a little better.

Moments where Schumer or another performer speak to the camera after the sketch ends, adding a bit more context or another funny line, happen often (in the original series, Schumer would drop similar observations in a nightclub setting in front of an audience, like she was midway through a standup comedy set).

Unfortunately, in the new series, such asides come close to the biggest cardinal sin in comedy: explaining a joke after you've already let it fly.

Shorter sketches fared better – like a bit where Michael Ian Black plays an obnoxious pitchman selling products which make women feel terrible about their bodies, like Spanx for the shower or Skinny Girl coffins.

And a public service announcement for Colorado that hints women might want to travel there to get a certain unnamed procedure done that has been banned in other states after a Supreme Court decision, captured the growing desperation of our times, unfolding behind a TV host's tight smile.

There's some cool cameos from stars like Olivia Wilde, Ellie Kemper and Bridget Everett. But other than brief appearances Grey's Anatomy alum Jesse Williams and performer/writer Yamaneika Saunders, Schumer's lineup of onscreen collaborators seem dominated by white folks, which is an odd look for 2022.

Humor is an incredibly subjective arena, so I'm sure lots of Schumer's fans will enjoy her return to sketch comedy more than I did. But much of the new material here felt undone by a lack of execution — intriguing ideas that just didn't blossom past the initial set-up.

It's been six years since Inside Amy Schumer originally aired on Comedy Central – that the revived show is on streamer Paramount+ instead of its original home tells you a lot about how media has changed in that time.

As a fan of the original series, I loved how Schumer found comedy in jarring sketches with a message – like a scene showing a woman playing a shoot-em-up video game who finds her onscreen character forced to deal with how the military mishandles sexual assault, sending up both gamer culture and a real-life scandal.

There is nothing that insightful or subversive in the two episodes of Inside Amy Schumer I previewed. But three more episodes are coming, so there's hope Schumer amps up the execution and gives us the kind of cutting, insightful comedy we need, at a moment when the absurdity and oppression of real life threatens to overshadow anything a satirist can put on TV.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.