It’s odd to watch Amy Schumer find serenity in nature, but that’s what “Life and Beth” is counting on. To paraphrase a gleeful Janis in “Mean Girls,” seeing Schumer sell produce is a bit like seeing a dog walk on its hind legs.
I had a sinking feeling the show would be good. At her best, Schumer can be very funny. She’s mostly been at her worst since making it big, but if “Life and Beth” was to be anything like “Girls,” I assumed it might just be incisive enough to function as an accidental critique of modern values.
And so it is. The Hulu series’ first season finds Beth, Schumer’s semi-autobiographical character, relocating from Manhattan to her childhood home on Long Island, reconnecting with family, rejecting a big promotion, breaking up with her live-in fiancée, and discovering joy in nature and community. These are all perfectly reasonable outcomes of the pilot’s tragic plot twist, but they’re also a sun-soaked rebuke of secular urban careerism.
During a funeral, for instance, Beth is deeply moved by the rituals of a thriving black church. She doesn’t exactly convert, but it’s just one example of the show’s relentless but unwitting flirtation with traditionalism. It consumes virtually the entire plot.
Back in her childhood home, Beth also plugs back into her childhood friend group. She dives into the community of a rural farm and reconnects with her father and sister. She falls for a stoic Michael Cera, who clearly embodies a much healthier masculinity than her swaggering and vapid ex-fiancé.
She enjoys the peace of the rural landscape and savors the literal fruits of Cera’s subsistence farming. Like the influencers who baked bread during the pandemic’s uncertain early stage, the show’s aesthetic also mirrors its unspoken quest for nature and beauty—neither of which is overrepresented in Manhattan these days.
After chasing an ostensibly dead-end career and dead-end relationship for at least a decade, Beth finds herself alienated and unfulfilled, having run from her family and her community with all the moral confidence and drive of reflexive fourth-wave feminism. Yet the series shows her finding fulfillment by rejecting that alienating, unmoored existence for the joys of family, friends, and nature.
As the moral arc of technology seems to be bending towards transhumanism (which is fundamentally antihuman), feminist thinkers are suddenly pumping the brakes. Some are even trying to throw the car into reverse. From porn to hormonal birth control to the consequences of casual sex, modernity isn’t exactly comfortable for women.
For many reasons, of course, it’s much more comfortable than past alternatives. But even so, the fallout from the sexual revolution sent millennials and Gen Z reeling. The refuge? A cold cartoon world delivered via headset or, perhaps, something that looks a little more retro.
When thoughtful progressive feminists reflect on modern life, very often they wade into these waters. “Girls” tip-toed in that direction before landing squarely in the end zone during its final season. Batya Ungar-Sargon reminded me of this the other day with an excellent point about a particularly topical episode that depicted Lena Dunham’s Hannah as an entitled narcissist for sharing personal life details with young students.
The final season of “Girls” (major spoilers ahead) embraced motherhood as the ultimate source of fulfillment, and by invoking deeply naturalistic imagery. Exactly three years ago today, I wrote about Schumer’s struggle with these questions in ”Growing”.
There are, occasionally, “I Feel Pretty” levels of cringe in ”Life and Beth”. But more often than not, the show is tender and clever and compelling. (And the soundtrack is great.) It’s a testament to the necessity of values Schumer doesn’t quite seem to know she holds.