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Why did everybody stop caring about Inside Amy Schumer all at once?

The sketch comedy series’ recently completed fourth season seemed to unspool in a vacuum.

Inside Amy Schumer
Amy Schumer is skeptical of our take.
Comedy Central
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Every Sunday, we pick a new episode of the week. It could be good. It could be bad. It will always be interesting. You can read the archives here. The episode of the week for June 12 through June 18 is "Rubbing Our Clips," the season finale of the fourth season of Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer.

So what happened to Inside Amy Schumer?

In the spring of 2015, the series, then in its third season, was all but inescapable. Every episode, seemingly, caused a full-fledged discussion of the comedian’s pointed sketches and hilarious takes on the inherent sexism of modern society. The episode "12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer" was a milestone, a TV landmark that seemed all but impossible to top.

And yet in the spring of 2016, in season four, Inside Amy Schumer aired nine episodes of television (one of which was a clip show) and mostly seemed to be ignored. The morning after her show aired wasn’t greeted with an endless parade of articles about her sketches, and the show’s live ratings occasionally dipped to their lowest point ever.

Yes, the week Inside Amy Schumer returned in April saw some degree of hype (especially over a pre-released sketch featuring Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda), but that hype dissipated almost immediately. It was weird.

So how did one of 2015’s biggest sensations become an afterthought just one year later? To my mind, three factors were at work.

1) The advertising campaign created a self-fulfilling prophecy

If you spotted any of the ads for season four before its debut, said ads almost always featured a joke about how overexposed Schumer was in the wake of her successful film Trainwreck, an HBO standup special, and, yes, the huge hype that greeted season three of Inside Amy Schumer. The implication was clear: Aren’t you tired of Amy Schumer? Here’s more of her! And she’s all out of ideas!

At the time, I thought this was sort of a canny way to get out in front of a big problem. Schumer really was everywhere in 2015, and viewers would be forgiven for being skeptical that she would have anything new to bring to TV in 2016. By acknowledging this upfront, the ads could assure viewers that everybody involved in the show was aware of their concerns.

But the problem with this is that to make this sort of claim, the episodes needed to be really good, and though individual sketches were frequently very funny, the episodes as a whole occasionally felt listless and unfocused. They lacked the darkly comic center of seasons two and three (when the show was at its best), and consequently the ad campaign became a self-fulfilling prophecy. The good sketches got lost amid the feeling that the show had run out of ideas.

2) The fourth season’s sketches were less ambitious and less political in nature

Season four couldn’t top "12 Angry Men," so it, by and large, didn’t even try. Ambition sometimes seemed like something Inside Amy Schumer had completely forgotten about. If season three had succeeded thanks to an acidic, acerbic take on politics, season four seemed at times to shy away from that sort of material, in favor of broad pop culture parodies that essentially every other sketch show had already tried.

There were individual moments when the series sang (like this sketch from the season premiere about congressmen trying to legislate women’s bodies, or a later one about a home-shopping network for gun enthusiasts), but it mostly settled for a long series of gags and spoofs you could see on other shows. A Game of Thrones sketch? Sure. Referencing Hamilton? Why not! At its best, Inside Amy Schumer felt like there was no cow too sacred for it to slaughter, but in season four the show too often felt safe.

Again, there was probably a very good reason for this. Season three was the kind of show that reached such heights of media hype that deliberately cooling things down for season four was a good way to both lean into the inevitable backlash and hopefully produce some funny material in spite of everything. But while the backlash arrived, the material never felt as spiky or searing as Inside Amy Schumer at its best. Taking the safe approach just doesn’t serve this show well.

3) Maybe Amy Schumer should have taken a year off?

Really, the biggest issue with Inside Amy Schumer season four was that it always seemed cautious about the idea that viewers would be sick of Schumer, because she’d been everywhere in 2015. And that wasn’t the fault of Schumer or the show, but it was a reality both had to deal with. By constantly pointing out that reality, the series backed itself into a corner.

The best solution to overexposure is usually just to go away for a while, and stars who reach Schumer’s stature usually build a little down time into their schedules both to recharge their creative batteries and to get out of the public eye for a little while. But season four of Inside Amy Schumer arrived at the worst possible time for that, right when Schumer probably would have been somewhere in the middle of several months of either vacation or working hard on some new project.

There are, yet again, good reasons for the show to air in the spring of 2016. After all, if Schumer decides to take a year off (or even if her contract would allow for such a thing), her show’s crew and writers would have to find other ways to pay the bills. Plus, the show turned into a media and awards magnet in season three, so it’s easy to see why all involved would want more episodes to air in 2016.

But as evidenced by the season finale being a halfhearted clip show, where even the framing device (a faux episode of Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live) feels indifferently executed, Inside Amy Schumer just ran out of gas somewhere between season three and season four. In the midst of that hectic 2015, the show and its star simply didn’t have time to refill the creative well.

And that doesn’t have to be fatal. There are numerous hit TV shows that have fourth seasons that feel just a little bit off, due to how frequently utter exhaustion sets in during that frame of episodes. And many of those series rebounded in season five, because at that point they had something to prove. When Inside Amy Schumer comes back for more episodes in 2017 or 2018, I have every hope the series and its star will be back to make their sketches sting again.

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