It’s like Hulu ripped its latest comedy from the mind of Judd Apatow. Amy Schumer’s Life & Beth is her funny and personal pathos about adulthood.
This review of Hulu’s Life & Beth season 1 contains no spoilers.
It is like Hulu’s newest half-hour comedy-drama was ripped from the mind of Judd Apatow. Schumer, like Apatow, draws on her own experiences of inadequacy and shame of childhood memories to shape her story that reflects how she came into adulthood. And perhaps for the first time, Schumer acts from a place of personal pain, sorrow, and relationship difficulties. She becomes the straight woman for most of the scenes in Life & Beth. Yes, she still manages some trademark humor, but mostly in miniature, intimate settings. Schumer allows her talented cast to take center stage and brings pathos to her character we haven’t seen before.
Schumer plays Beth, an almost forty-year-old woman at a crossroads in her life. This is not a case of arrested development. If anything, her parents have always been stuck there. Beth has a good-paying sales job, pays her bills, and is in a relationship. Beth’s life is comfortable with all the hallmarks of making it in life, minus having a family. Her mother, Jane (Laura Benanti), cycles through relationships, with most of them married men because her esteem is tied into “positive” male attention. Her father is a sad sack who cannot keep a job, drinks too much, and runs small cons. Yeah, they scarred her and her sister, Ann (Deadbeat’s Suzannah Flood), for life.
Her boyfriend, Matt (Inside Amy Schumer player Kevin Kane, so funny here), appears to be on top of the world, but you can tell it’s a beard for him being a neurotic mess within a few seconds. On the other hand, you have a farmer named John (Michael Cera), who is so honest and straightforward he makes being socially awkward look confident. That’s the crux of Life & Beth. Throughout the series, we see flashbacks of Beth going through life as a teenager beaten down by life and her parent’s immaturity.
Life & Beth can be an uneven series, but as a whole, it works beautifully cohesively. Schumer directed four episodes and wrote seven with her sister, and has collected a talented team, many of them from Inside Amy Schumer. What makes that remarkable is how sketch comedy differs from the more mainstream one they created here. While that may have contributed to some uneven episodes, you’ll find that the story arc told in flashbacks comes together by the last three episodes.
There is also very personal storytelling, and you get insight into how Schumer came to hone her comedic style. She touches on issues often brought up in her routine, and she talks about them openly. Her being bullied in school. Her father’s business failed, and the breakup of her parent’s marriage and the scar on her leg led to some life issues and humorous moments.
We look at the onscreen relationship and her real-life marriage. Cera’s John and Schumer’s Beth mirrors her real-life marriage to award-winning chef Chris Fischer. She openly has spoken about this in her Netflix comedy special, how Fischer has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that can cause social, communication, and behavioral challenges.
This is a beautiful and deeply personal insight into Schumer’s life. By the end, the relationship on screen is so honest and sweet. Cera’s turn as John may be quirky and off-beat at first. Yet, there is a commitment here and being laugh-out-loud funny at times that is very hard to do and may not be appreciated.
Life & Beth is a breath of off-beat, quirky fresh air, yet somehow staying grounded with real-life, everyday issues. It can be self-indulgent. However, Schumer’s poignant look at how she developed her sense of humor as a defense mechanism is a beautiful thing. It helped her create a comedy Judd Apatow would be proud of.
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