‘Life & Beth’: Amy Schumer Grapples With Her Past and Present in Personal Dramedy Series
Amy Schumer is approaching 40 and coming to terms with her past in “Life & Beth,” a dramedy series from Hulu that showcases her introspective side that was highlighted in docuseries “Expecting Amy,” while also incorporating jokes from her stand-up comedy. Schumer plays the title character, Beth, who finds herself at a crossroad following the unexpected death of her mother, Jane (Laura Benanti, who appears mostly in flashback). The Manhattan-based saleswoman decamps to her native Long Island, but any plans for rest and relaxation go away after triggers lead traumatic childhood memories to bubble to surface.
When we first meet Beth, the only real positive in her life is that she is earning a good salary in her job selling wine to vendors, although she isn’t exactly peeing her pants after her boss Murray (larger-than-life gender-bending actor Murray Hill) offers her a promotion that would take her to Naples, Florida. She has a live-in boyfriend, Matt (Kevin Kane, who is also a producer), but it is obvious from the start that he’s wrong for her, and not just because he would rather work out on his Peleton than have sex. He’s obnoxious and lacking self-awareness, which is never more painfully obvious than when he proposes to Beth hours after Jane’s funeral in a flash mob.
“Life & Beth” starts off rather dry, and Beth is self-admittedly a passenger in her own life. She starts to take the wheel after she dumps Matt and decides to temporarily move into the house her mom left behind. Back in Long Island, she finds herself spending more time with her younger sister, Anne (Susannah Flood), an underdeveloped character who basically just acts as a sounding board for Beth, although she gets a girlfriend at the very end of the series. She also reconnects with some girlhood pals, although she is estranged from her former best friend, Liz (Rachel Feinstein, Grace Power as a young teen).
Flashbacks to Beth’s middle school years (newcomer Violet Young plays young Beth), back when she and Liz were as close as sisters, build suspense to the eventual reveal as to why they fell out. These scenes also highlight the cringey, awkward, and even toxic things girls that age deal with, but, most importantly, explore how the dysfunctional behavior of parents can impact their children. Michael Rapaport plays Leonard, Beth and Anne’s perpetually down-on-his-luck father, whose rocky relationship with Jane sets the tone for Beth’s future romantic relationships.
The best parts of “Life & Beth” revolve around Beth’s budding romance with John (Michael Cera), a farmer on a Long Island vineyard. John is coded as having Asperger’s Syndrome, although this is never explicitly stated, although Schumer has said he is based on her real-life husband who is on the Autism spectrum. Beth finds John’s personality endearing, that is until he ignores social norms when she takes him to a funeral. John also takes issue with some of Beth’s behavior as a saleswoman.
Schumer does a better job of balancing the light with the dark in certain episodes than she does in others, although fans of her comedy can spot her signature humor in key scenes. There’s the self-deprecating humor, such as when she details to her doctor (David Byrne, in a guest-starring role) her unhealthy eating and drinking habits. Beth is plagued with chronic back pain throughout the series, and despite build-up to a diagnosis in episode nine, we never get one. The funniest scene in the series, that is evocative of Schumer’s stand-up, involves a cringey hook-up with a himbo that ends with her taking a Plan B pill in a drugstore, and only Schumer can take something like a broken condom and turn it into a moment of empowerment.
“Life & Beth” season one begins streaming March 18 on Hulu.