“Cool With It” has a strong thematic thread running through it, as Inside Amy Schumer looks at the ways women struggle with conforming to standards of beauty and expected behavior to make men happy, and what happens when they don’t bother. It’s an uneven episode, not as consistently funny as last week’s excellent premiere. Still, it provides the best worst fart-noise-based beatboxing performances by a white man over forty in recent history.

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The episode follows last week’s “Milk Milk Lemonade” with another gleeful, catchy music video parody. This time, the spoofed musical genre is treacly boy band empowerment tunes. In a candy-colored apartment, a gaggle of coiffed teens croons to a blushing Amy that she’s most beautiful with no makeup on. The song plays off the confusing messages women receive about how men like appearances, with a wink at the wee pubescent scamps of One Direction singing that insecure girls “don’t need makeup to cover up,” as well as the countless campaigns encouraging women to ditch elaborate grooming routines to let our natural beauty shine.

Once she dramatically dumps her mascara and nail polish and wiped the cosmetics off her face, the baby-faced band takes a look at her bare face and quickly reneges on its original anthem, entreating Amy to put her makeup back on. “Think of a clown and work your way back,” they trill. The cheery sketch twists on the punchline that “no makeup” beauty still translates to a smooth-skinned, youthful, symmetrical ideal, just one that requires minimal outward gestures of effort. It’s a frothy mockery of impossible, hypocritical beauty standards, set to another earworm.

Schumer is mostly silent during the video, bouncing around in pastels and following the band’s sugary orders, but she shows her strong game as a physical actress. Her facial expressions and body language move from buoyant and confident to hurt and annoyed as the oblivious boys chirp on about reapplying lipstick. The sad clown expression on her face as the song ends is perfectly deflated and bewildered.

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Schumer uses her voice more in “Cool With It,” a sketch that’s a spiritual successor to last season’s “A Chick Who Can Hang,” where Schumer makes fun of the men’s magazine concept of an ideal woman, someone who gargles cheeseburgers without gaining weight and loves sports bars and burping. This time, instead of poking at the myth of the eternally laid-back babe, “Cool With It” spins the idea of a girl putting on a performance to hang with the dudes into something far darker. A woman who wants to prove to her coworkers that she’s fine with going to a strip club ends up pushing the night into abyss-dark territory (which is basically the premise of the 1998 film Very Bad Things, starring Jeremy Piven and Christian Slater). Schumer’s desperate woo-woo party monster voice is a spot-on performance of forced mirth, as her character insists on buying lap dances and shots until things take a turn towards murder, but the bizarre ending that really doesn’t work.

Pathetic office drone Amy lets her dude coworkrs go home and insists on burying a dead stripper herself. Then she abruptly turns to the camera and starts talking about the wage gap in the United States, sending viewers to notcoolwithit.com, a URL that redirects to the Institute for Policy Research webpage on pay equity and discrimination. It’s a jarring tonal shift, which is deliberate, but when she turns around from the impromptu PSA and smashes the apparently-not-totally-dead stripper on the head with a shovel, it’s not funny as much as nauseating.

The show does something much better with another woman desperate to appear flexible for a man’s sake with a standout sketch later in the episode. Schumer plays an exhausted woman working two jobs so her boyfriend (Kyle Dunnigan) can follow his rap career dreams, despite his talents beginning and ending at making ridiculous fart noises with his mouth. He is terrible for a thousand reasons, but probably the most because he drawls “Penny for your thoughts?” and then immediately demands squid ink paella. Dunnigan is perfect, his awful beatboxing is perfect, and the only remotely bad thing to be said about the sketch is it does make it very difficult to watch without attempting to make awful beatboxing noises at home.

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Less successful: The opening sketch is a commercial parody of an “Official Amy Schumer doll.” The joke is the doll’s an irresponsible, UTI-prone disaster. Many of Schumer’s best standup bits riff on trainwreck behavior, and they’re great. The problem isn’t in the premise as much as the execution, which is a stale retread of old jokes about the worn-in trope of The Hot Mess.

Schumer plays a different type of female loser in “Plain Jane,” a Miami Vice spoof where she’s a homely detective who is able to navigate through Florida’s crime rings because she’s so boring-looking that hot people don’t see that she’s there. She is mistaken for a stool, a moldy compost bin, “a fat wind howling,” a bag of wet leaves, a jumbo sleeve of cookie dough, and an inflatable snowman wearing a birthday hat. Not being beautiful or feminine works to Detective Amy’s advantage, and that’s the whole joke. Yet it works because of those strange specifics (and, obviously, the enduring screen presence of Dennis Quaid).

Tonight’s Inside Amy was funny, and two outstanding sketches isn’t bad for a half-hour episode. However, relying on generic hot mess jokes is beneath this show, so let’s hope the Amy doll was the last time Inside Amy will use the existence of Plan B as a punchline.

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Stray observations:

  • Anyone try to email BebibbyrapsKyle1975@yahoo.com?
  • For this episode’s “Amy Goes Deep,” Schumer interviews the creator of AshleyMadison.com, the website devoted to helping people cheat on their partners with each other. It’s a fascinating segment. Schumer is polite and engaging as always, but she’s unwilling to hide her issues with the service. “Even though I hear you, I did think it was kind of mean and unsympathetic,” she tells him about one of the ads.
  • Wikipedia has informed me that Kyle Dunnigan dated Sarah Silverman from 2011 to 2013. And now I have passed that knowledge on!

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