(Kyle Dunnigan, Amy Schumer) (Photo: Comedy Central)

“Psychopath Test” is easily Inside Amy Schumer’s best show of this season so far. Other episodes have featured more elaborately constructed sketches or cutting social commentary, but they’ve also stumbled over abrupt endings or contradictory tones. “Psychopath Test” is fresh, funny, and surprising throughout. Most surprising of all, seven episodes into the season, the show finally moves away from the subject of Schumer’s skyrocketing fame. If I’ve harped on its effect on the show, that’s only because Inside Amy Schumer harps on it, too. Even so, I didn’t realize what a relief it would be when the writers’ room turned away from that subject for an episode.

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The show opens with a bubbly paean to self-esteem (sung by Sara Bareilles) that immediately becomes a celebration of sociopathic entitlement. “You are gorgeous no matter what you do/You are perfect no matter how you act,” Amy Schumer lip-syncs into the mic; her companions (Amber Tamblyn, Aparna Nancherla, and Maggie Champagne, with a special appearance by Princess Superstar) take turns encouraging listeners—and themselves—to greater and greater misdeeds:

Claim a miscarriage when no pregnancy occurred

Or do a karaoke rap so you can scream the N-word

Follow your heart and swing for the fences

Fellate your friend’s husband, the only consequence is

You are so beautiful

As karaoke host/DJ, Jemaine Clement commends their selfishness: “Keep your chin held high and your empathy nonexistent.” It’s a savage takedown of the tendency to turn support into self-centeredness akin to “DMS5 Girlfriends.”

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Two different sketches in “Psychopath Test” examine the ways in which media exploits familiar types and beats to manipulate the audience. Perfect Matches hits all the lowest-common-denominator multi-camera sitcom beats: fat husband/hot wife, bathroom humor, nonsense catch phrases, ethnic stereotypes, leather-jacketed rogue, cute animal entrance. Only when the studio audience and her co-stars turn on her does Schumer’s character (the sassy best friend) balk at the hackneyed writing, screaming, “These jokes aren’t funny, you’re just used to the rhythm!” The silences, then heckles, that her lines elicit are an unnerving contrast to the bright, stupid notes of the corny sitcom. Finally, Amy’s dragged off by sitcom stormtroopers and Sarah Chalke—identically costumed and styled, but visibly pregnant—is dollied into her place without a pause. In a brilliant touch, Chalke is in turn replaced by Alicia “Lecy” Goranson, who is then replaced by a child. And the audience eats it up.

“This show is not funny. It’s disgusting!”

In a commercial shoot, Steve (Kyle Dunnigan) plays the customer approaching Schumer’s spokesperson, Amy (“the Mobile C girl”). The director’s (Neil Casey) concept for Steve’s character reveals the artifice behind seemingly simple portrayals. “Have you seen these commercials? Be honest with me,” he asks Steve. “In every one, you got a girl, right? A nice girl. We like the girl, the girl is the company.” At first, his explanation seems straightforward, but as he expands with ever-greater vehemence, it becomes more sinister, more exploitative… but not less plausible:

That’s it, Steve, that’s the spot. Guy on the edge, nothing to live for. He’s thinking of burning it all to the ground with a rifle he bought on the Mexican internet until, holy shit, this sweet woman gives him ten seconds’ reprieve from his own screaming mind. So maybe the reckoning can wait for another day, huh, Steve? That’s who’s watching TV, Steve, people on the fuckin’ brink!

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Casey’s intensity here carries the sketch, with Dunnigan’s ease and Schumer’s amiability foiling him nicely. As a bonus, her character’s preoccupation with her confusion over what exactly they’re selling is both a nice running joke and a simple capper to the sketch.

It’s not just the media that manipulates through pleasantries. In one sketch, four pregnant women (Schumer, Mena Suvari, Greta Lee, and Alana O’Brien) sit in a sunroom around an array of Pinterest-perfect treats, discussing their birth plans, all of which are exhaustively tailored to be “better for the baby.” It’s one-upmanship cloaked as conversation and concern. None of it actually sounds better for the baby, or even for the mother: a non-water birth into a tub of barley, a Tibetan mountaintop birth to avoid pollution by Western medicine, a sea-turtle birth. (Greta Lee glows with smug triumph as she explains: “Oh, it’s when you give birth on a beach and you dig a small hole and you kick sand on the baby and you see if it crawls into the ocean or into your arms. It’s better for the baby.”) Mena Suvari gets the last word, and the last laugh; the gruesome punchline to the sketch is neatly capped by her “Mmm, cake pops!”

The Raddiston Hotel sketch is a dark, weird little piece. Its success is a quiet combination of isolated performances and smart staging choices that build a promising premise into a tiny nightmare. With the camera barely panning from side to side, the set feels both eerily still and vaguely unsettled. The dim room with the bright TV as its focal point enhances that sensation. Inside Amy Schumer regular Mike Houston moves restlessly around the hotel room, pacing and fuming. Briefly, he perches in center screen to block the TV, though we can hear it droning on behind him. The combination of his movement and the room’s dreary stillness gives the sketch a stagnant, caged feel that pays off in the revelation of Schumer’s spokesperson that she’s trapped in the TV—and the next unwary guest who overstays their check-out time will be, too.

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“Psychopath Test” is a dark, nasty, very funny piece of work, full of surprises and uneasy pauses. After a hit-or-miss season drawing heavily on its star’s highly publicized recent experiences, it’s a relief to see Inside Amy Schumer can still deliver an episode like this, full of potent ideas, weird swerves, and solid laughs.

Stray observations

  • Casey’s Other Space co-star Milana Vayntrub is an AT&T spokesperson.
  • “Click click click click click, well, I guess I’ll go to the store and buy a mobile hot spot for the wifi router in my porn dungeon because I let my life come to this.”
  • “You can’t flirt with a company, Steve. You can’t fuck a company. You don’t have a shot.”
  • Muting the TV just as Schumer’s monotone description moves on to the exotic animal room is a great little joke; the entire episode is enlivened by thoughtful touches like this.
  • Adult titles available at the Raddiston Hotel of Canton, Ohio: One Flew Into The Cuckoo’s Bush, Casablanal, Straight Philadelphia, Gravititty, The Hateful Eight Inches, On Golden Blonde.
  • “Amy Goes Deep” interviews Jon Ronson, author of The Psychopath Test.
  • Tonight’s episode is dedicated to the memory of Sunny Balzano.

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