Amy Schumer shines as a thirtysomething wine seller dealing with grief in Hulu’s new dramedy.
Amy Schumer made a name for herself in the comedy scene as a stand-up for whom sex and booze were cornerstones of her act. She was a refreshing performer, helping to break down barriers for women in comedy, and showing the world that female comedians can be just as raunchy as their male counterparts. Her newest venture is an evolution of the party girl in Hulu’s Life & Beth, with Schumer portraying titular character Beth, a woman “barreling towards 40,” amid an identity crisis. The series, like Beth, is also in an identity crisis, as structurally it struggles in its episodic format. However, there are some strong performances by Schumer and a supporting cast of comedic heavy-hitters that make the series an entertaining watch.
Life & Beth follows Beth, in her late 30s, as she tries to find purpose in her life. She’s good at her wine sales job at Kerig Cellars, even in line for a promotion. She’s in a long-term relationship with Matt (Kevin Kane), an attractive goof. However, after her mother, Jane (Laura Benanti), dies in a car accident. Beth starts to question her own life and decides to move back to Long Island, much to her younger sister Ann’s (Susannah Flood) dismay. Beth meets bluntly honest groundskeeper John (Michael Cera) at a local winery, who pushes her out of her comfortable Manhattan lifestyle. While back home, she works through the events of her childhood, processing the trauma from her father Leonard’s (Michael Rapaport) unstable finances to her mother’s penchant for dating married men.
I applaud Schumer for her vulnerability in making the series, as much of the show seems to be influenced by her own life. It’s rare to see middle-aged women on TV who are unmarried, childless, and searching for purpose in their life – that’s usually reserved for men. There are still glimmers of the party-girl that many viewers might recognize from Schumer’s previous works, such as when Beth hits the clubs with her friends in Long Island. This time around, though, Beth and her friends decide to leave the club early to hit the sale at Nordstrom Rack. Women can have messy mid-life crises and enjoy a good sale!
What’s less effective in Life & Beth is the episodic structure of the series. Narratively, it feels like a feature-length film chopped into ten sections. Pilots are always tough to crack, as they’ve got to lay a sturdy foundation for the rest of the episodes. This pilot feels particularly unnecessary, with the inciting incident of Jane’s death occurring in the final moments of the episode. The second episode is a more appropriate starting point, featuring Beth and Matt on the Long Island Railroad, recounting their journey to train conductor, who is also a former childhood classmate of Beth’s. The episodic structure isn’t the strongest way to tell Beth’s story, as it feels as if the show itself is wandering along, just like Beth.
Structure aside, the cast really serves up some hilarious and poignant moments. Schumer, who most recently appeared in the 2021 feature The Humans, shows off her dramatic chops, in addition to brushing off her comedic skills. Michael Cera is excellent as John. His bluntness and disregard for social norms could come off as prick-ish, but he plays it in a genuine manner, making Beth’s attraction to him more plausible. Susannah Flood is hilarious as Beth’s younger sister Ann. Together the three of them are the focus of the series’ funniest episode, when they spend a day on John’s boat (a small speedboat) high on mushrooms, fishing until John gets a hook stuck in his hand. It’s a riotous episode, seeing three high middle-aged adults try to find the safest way to seek medical attention. There are also some amusing cameos by David Byrne, Janelle James, Jonathan Groff, and a blink and you’ll miss him Tim Daly.
Life & Beth is a fun romp, even if the episodic structure feels unfocused. Great performances from Schumer, Cera, and a strong supporting cast result in some funny moments, and keep viewers interested long enough to hit the play button. Perhaps Life & Beth isn’t that rare, vintage bottle of wine that you’ll want to savor glass after glass. It might be more like a one-glass wine like Moscato, a merry, sweet journey of Schumer navigating adulthood.
Life & Beth premieres on Hulu March 18th.