TV in the time of pandemic is already getting pretty weird. We’re seeing TV news hosts broadcasting from their basements, doctors testifying to congress via Zoom, and comedians cooking in secluded cabins in the woods. That’s the premise of Amy Schumer’s new TV show, Amy Schumer Learns to Cook that recently premiered on Food Network. The show features one of our favorite moms, Schumer, her chef husband, Chris Fischer, their baby Gene, and his nanny, Jane who also doubles as a cameraperson.
The family is hunkered down in a friend’s cabin and they have rigged their quarantine-home with cameras and lighting equipment to self-shoot the show. Much like our federal government’s pandemic response, the show feels messy, uneasy, and ultimately morbidly funny. While Schumer’s lighthearted jokes pepper her narration, below the surface is a deeper joke about how we live now. When the laughter subsides, the show also carries the hopeful message that you are not alone.
Breakfast is served with hard liquor.
The show begins with Schumer and Fischer describing the breakfast they’ll show viewers how to prepare: latkas, applesauce, poached eggs, a fennel salad, and bacon. But, before the cooking begins, cocktails must be made. The very best pairing for breakfast is an Old Fashioned, according to Schumer.
She conjures laughs by joking about drinking Listerine out of desperation and the times her husband shaved her legs when she was pregnant.
“Well a couple of times, when I get really pregnant, you had to shave my legs for me,” Schumer says to her husband.
“I did shave your legs a few times,” he replies.
“It was really for you because things had gotten out of hand,” Schumer deadpans.
Schumer paints a familiar picture of what parenting through this pandemic looks like.
The camera catches Schumer stealing glances of her 11-month-old son who plays off-camera for the majority of the episode. The twinkle in her eyes betrays the plunge into neverending, inescapable domestic life that we’re all experiencing because of the pandemic.
With offices, schools, and restaurants closed, the walls that once separated professional and personal life have collapsed. For working parents, life was already a slog through cleaning, educating, caring, and feeding children, now the times away from those activities are nonexistent. It’s constant.
At one point, Gene begins to cry. Schumer races away from her hosting duties to retrieve her son. As she comforts her baby, she manages to squeeze in a one-liner.
“What happened?” Schumer asks while wiping away tears. “Did you hear daddy talking about fennel and you got so bored?”
Amy Schumer Learns to Cook gets really real.
“It’s a crazy time right now,” Schumer says, “We’re in the middle of a pandemic.”
Her husband interrupts her to crack a joke about fennel before she continues, “Just to be honest, everyone has their own personal stories about what’s going on right now and their relationship to this. We live in New York City and I’m really scared. My dad lives in a nursing home and fifteen people in his nursing home have died from COVID. And, a lot more than that have it. So, I’m scared about that.”
The moment of gravity from Schumer speaks to the delicate balance she strikes with the show. It is indeed a scary time for many of us, we miss friends, family, and the things we enjoyed before the pandemic. While the show is mostly funny, it begs viewers to zoom out and look at the absurdity of the situation we all find ourselves in. The segment ends with Jane and Gene enjoying the breakfast the hosts prepared as Schumer shoves salad into her mouth with her fingers.
Rinse and repeat.
An edit occurs. According to the show and its hosts, time has actually passed even though the setting and Fischer look exactly the same. Confined to our homes, the sheer monotony of social distancing is one of the hardest parts. Each day becomes more indistinguishable than the last. Schumer tells viewers it’s a new day (viewers must take her word for it) and that she’ll be preparing late-night fare for the next meal.
“Do you remember when all of this began and you were like, ‘if I was in quarantine with anyone in the whole world it would be you?'” Fischer asks Schumer.
“Yeah,” Schumer replies.
“Do you still feel that way?”
“No,” Schumer resolutely says before continuing, “No, I absolutely still feel that way!”
Bickering ensues and it feels so real.
Another day, another cocktail.
Then, the couple begins a tutorial for how to prepare a Moscow Mule. There’s a caveat though. The main ingredient in the cocktail (other than vodka) is ginger beer and it’s in short supply.
“We don’t have ginger beer, actually, because you can’t get everything right now,” Schumer says. “So, Chris has fashioned some fresh ginger and simple syrup.”
Like the hastily made cue cards cobbled together from cardboard and sharpie by Fischer, invention and imagination are in high demand for all of us now. Parents are becoming equally as crafty creating color-coded schedules to try and give children a sense of normalcy. Chrissy Teigan and John Legend even had a wedding ceremony for their daughter’s stuffed animal. We’re all doing the very best we can!
Let’s laugh at ourselves more.
David Lidsky wrote about the show in a piece titled, “Let’s hope Amy Schumer’s quarantine cooking show is not the future of TV.”
“The show is a terrifying look at how bizarre and random TV could get amid a prolonged shutdown or rolling waves of the virus spread and the disruption they’d create in entertainment production,” Lidsky writes before slamming the show for its production value.
Yes, Lidsky seems more interested in the legibility of the cardboard cue cards than the substance of Schumer’s show. His argument against the show is that it is essentially too poorly made to be escapist TV. In his view, the show “works when the action doesn’t steal focus by reminding us they’re in quarantine or accentuating the unprofessional set.”
The thing Lidsky takes issue with, being reminded the hosts are in quarantine, is exactly what makes the show so essential right now. People are feeling isolated and alien to themselves. How many times a day have you done something you would have never done before social distancing and asked yourself, is anyone else doing this too?
It turns out, yes, Schumer and her husband are keeping it just as weird.
It’s really as crazy as it feels.
In Schumer’s acceptance speech for a Peabody award in 2014, she said, “We thought we were making this secret feminist show and that people wouldn’t catch on to what we were doing. And, then people caught on, they caught on very quickly. We’re so glad that they did. We just wanted to make a show that would make people laugh and feel better.”
She gave the remarks about her very successful Comedy Central show, Inside Amy Schumer. After watching the pilot of Amy Schumer Learns to Cook, it seems the motivating factors of “making people laugh and feel better” are at play again. Only now, the comedian is married and has started a family. She’s managed to work these new aspects of her life into her comedy and found the perfect vehicle in a cooking show set during a pandemic.
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