‘Life & Beth’ turns Amy Schumer loose on a personal dramedy


(CNN)Amy Schumer titled her sketch comedy series “Inside Amy Schumer,” which would actually be a better moniker for “Life & Beth,” a Hulu dramedy that Schumer created and stars in, in addition to writing and directing most of the episodes. Personal but ponderous, it’s a flawed trip down memory lane where children bear the lingering burden of their ill-equipped parents.

Schumer’s Beth seems to have a lot going for her as the series begins, with a longterm boyfriend and perq-filled job as a wine distributor, before being suddenly shaken by an unexpected loss. That event throws Beth into a tailspin, causing her to begin questioning her choices and reminiscing about painful memories from her youth (she’s well played at that age by Violet Young).

Most of those interludes demonstrate how cruel kids can be, capturing awkward and embarrassing moments in Beth’s adolescence. But several deal with Beth’s divorced parents, and especially her beautiful mom (Laura Benanti), who attracted men in droves and discarded them just as quickly.

    As for the present, Beth’s relationship fizzles but she soon meets a taciturn farmer (Michael Cera, at his Michael Cera-est), who is brusque at first before the two become romantically entangled. Their interactions get complicated by her sudden interest in reexamining her life, which frequently puts more emphasis on drama, albeit not very well, than comedy.

      “Do you ever hear yourself?” Beth’s younger sister (Susannah Flood) asks, and clearly, much of the time she doesn’t. Therein lies one of the show’s drawbacks, which is that even with the cruel blow life has dealt her, Beth comes across as self-absorbed in a way that exhibits little awareness that others might be hurting too.

        After starring in several movies, and with her gig co-hosting the Oscars coming up, Schumer attracts some marquee names, with David Byrne and Jonathan Groff among the guest stars, and Benanti lighting up the flashbacks as the mother that young Beth alternately loves and can’t stand.

        Just structurally, “Life & Beth” is such a slender premise as to feel conspicuously stretched at 10 episodes, putting Beth’s new relationship through various contortions seemingly as a means of prolonging it.

          All told, the Hulu series provides Schumer — who has begun making the turn into dramatic fare, including the recent movie “The Humans” — a wide berth to explore material loosely based on her own experiences. (Schumer also produced a reality show for HBO Max, “Expecting Amy,” chronicling her difficult pregnancy.)

          There’s obviously a long history of filmmakers engaging in similar exercises, just as there is in comics branching out into more serious fare; still, the stark rawness of the material doesn’t translate into a particularly distinctive series.

            “Life & Beth” eventually comes around to recognizing that despite hardship and setbacks, life goes on. Yet beyond Schumer’s loyal fans, the temptation will be to come to that realization before its protagonist does.

            “Life & Beth” premieres March 17 on Hulu.