‘Life & Beth’ Hulu: Amy Schumer finds happiness in new show

In the Hulu series “Life & Beth,” created and partially written and directed by Amy Schumer, Schumer plays Beth, a sales representative for a mid-tier wine merchant in New York City, who even her boss (Murray Hill) describes as mediocre. Though she’s good at her job and waiting for a promotion, her aspiration is to have a great life – “I’m probably the happiest, most contented person in this whole mall,” she tells her lovingly critical mother, Jane (Laura Benanti), on an uncomfortable shopping spree – is clearly a case of too much protest from the lady. A weight weighs on Beth; even the air seems to slow them down. When her mother suddenly dies, her lack of tears is seen by those around her as a symptom of a disordered personality. (The show is pretty keen on the deafness that can come with losing a parent.)

With her relationship with longtime friend and colleague Matt (Kevin Kane) coughing and stuttering and her 40th birthday approaching, she leaves Manhattan and moves to the hamlet of Long Island where she grew up to face old wounds and new opportunities to find. Extended flashbacks chronicle Beth’s middle school years, an anthology of challenges and humiliations at home, at school, and in the basement — though not without moments of hope, exhilaration, and the best of friendships. In the present tense, Beth visits a local winery to do business (Jon Glaser plays its uncooperative, testy, irritating owner) and meets John (Michael Cera), the farmer, at the attached organic farm.

“Life & Beth” has an odd quality of being at the same time a little awkward and exactly what it wants to be. Its parts don’t all fit together sonically — it’s a mix of romantic comedy, straight-line drama, bits and sketches, and adapted stand-up, with the odd line that seems to derive more from Schumer than her character — and at times it feels constructed to deliver a point, a project as well as a story. But it’s also distinctly candid and personal, peppered (like Schumer’s screenplay for Trainwreck) with autobiographical details. Like Beth, Schumer, who grew up on Long Island, experienced a turning point in the family’s fortunes when her high-end baby furniture business went under; her father – Michael Rapaport plays Beths – was an alcoholic; Her parents got divorced. (Whether her mother made a habit of developing short-term relationships with married men I don’t know, but it’s Jane’s defining trait.)

The series is also a love letter to Schumer’s husband, Chris Fischer, a chef and part-time organic farmer (and her co-star on Food Network’s “Amy Schumer Learns to Cook”), cast here in the persona of Ceras John. (The series’ discussions have great authority.) It’s frequently hilarious, full of bright comic twists, and often quite moving, even beautiful, sometimes just for the duration of a take, in a way that might make you think about a character. It ends up being sentimental, but that’s what happens sometimes when artists get lucky in their lives.

The twist in the rom-com is that the main character lacks the usual qualities of a romantic lead – although there are quite a few romantic comedies based around falling in love with unconventional people, which is what Life & Beth is all about. not… unconventional. As will be known to viewers of or viewers of Expecting Amy Schumer, the excellent HBO Max documentary in which she gives birth to a Netflix stand-up special and her first child, Schumer’s husband, Johns Model seen on the autism spectrum. John can’t whisper or lie, which means he’s also uncomfortably taking others’ word for it; Lacking social grace, he is obsessed with a boat in the middle of a funeral. Cera plays him with a slightly flat effect that reads as annoying or charming depending on the scene. (That the details are simultaneously so specific — any normal viewer of TV and film will recognize them instantly — and never mentioned on the show seems odd, despite the fact that Fischer was only diagnosed after he and Schumer were married.)

A man and two women clink glasses with wine

Kate Berlant and John Early are among the many comedians in Life & Beth.

(Marcus Price/Hulu)

Despite Beth’s myriad liabilities—”You’re a red planet,” says her sister Ann (Susannah Flood) when Beth mentions John’s red flags—she’s less eccentric than most of the other characters we encounter; and we tend to side with her, even if she seems less friendly, because we understand from those flashbacks that she’s hurt. (And because she’s the star, and she’s Amy Schumer, who we might already have good feelings about; apparently, enough of us do that she’s been tapped to co-host next week’s Oscars.)

An encounter with a local hunk (Jonathan Groff) who was ridiculed for his touristy view of New York struck me as snobbish. And there’s perhaps too stark a contrast between the old friends of Long Island of Beth, with their atmosphere of vague domestic discontent, and John’s Farm, where fiddles and mandolins fill the air at a birthday party and everyone is comfortable in their own skin – quirky, perhaps, but centered, satisfied. But “Life & Beth” mostly holds back with judgments and provides reasons when it comes to Beth.

The scenes set in the past that exist to explain the present – including the mystery that led to a rift between young Beth and her friend and protector Liz (Grace Power) – have an independent life and integrity and are so well realized forgets how many times we’ve seen versions of these children and their conflicts. It helps that they’re not played for comedy, but most importantly, they’re brought to life by the actresses playing the younger versions of Beth and Ann. As Beth, Violet Young is a marvel, a little less sophisticated, a little more trusting than her peers, and embodies the trauma that will constrict her future self into a knot of denial, but not beyond the odd moment of hopeful joy. As Ann, who measures her height every day and is willing to believe her older sister when she tells her that living in a smaller house is better because “only losers live in big houses,” Lily Fisher has less to do , but makes an adorable counterbalance to Beth , too young to understand her circumstances.

A bildungsroman set in late middle age, the series is clearly about Beth’s bumpy road to mental and physical health. (That her back pain will be a plot point is clear from the first casual mention.) There are a number of encounters with medical professionals, including David Byrne as “Dr. B” and advised her to chew more and drink less; Lavar Walker as an old friend, now a pharmacist; Swann Gruen removing a fishhook from a finger; and Phil Wang as an inexperienced MRI technician who dreams of becoming a DJ – you could call him a scene thief if the scene wasn’t made to show him off.

In fact, the series is loaded with comedians, including Dave Attell as the rabbi, John Early and Kate Berlant as Beth’s potential clients, Janelle James as the saleswoman, Yamaneika Saunders as Beth’s old best friend Maya, and Gary Gulman as Maya’s “Jewish date.” — and Schumer clearly gives them room to work, often sitting back and playing straight. (An extended conversation between Beth and Maya that feels largely impromptu is reminiscent of the interview segments of her Comedy Central series, Inside Amy Schumer.) As is true of much contemporary comedy, casting has a taste for calling his friends and to see if you’d like to come out and play.

And all of them, not least Hank Azaria as head of the funeral home (an alternative title for the series could be Three Funerals and No Weddings), are on point. When I say that I particularly enjoyed Flood as the (quietly) angrier Sister Ann and Saunders as Maya, who provide Beth with various kinds of ballast and help her add dimension, it’s only because their scenes particularly stuck in my memory are. Although the season has a self-contained arc, what’s here could easily support a second. Because life goes on.

‘Life & Beth’

Not rated

When: Anytime from 18.03

Where from: Hello

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2022-03-17/life-beth-hulu-amy-schumer-review ‘Life & Beth’ Hulu: Amy Schumer finds happiness in new show

Caroline Bleakley

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