“Life & Beth,” Amy Schumer’s new show for Hulu, unfolds in three distinct acts. The first sees Beth (Schumer) as a wine salesperson in Manhattan who’s quietly miserable with her job and in her relationship to Matt (Kevin Kane), a “New York 8” who treats her like an inconvenient afterthought. The second act sends her to her hometown on Long Island, where she meets and falls for John (Michael Cera), a vineyard farmer whose lifestyle and blunt charm shows her the possibility of a different kind of life. The final act, unfolding over the season’s last two episodes, has Beth confront her own mortality and dive deeper into the childhood that made her want to get so far away from Long Island in the first place.

The series is a new kind of venture for star, writer, and director Schumer, who’s long been known for a louder, spikier brand of comedy from her standup, sketch show “Inside Amy Schumer,” and Judd Apatow movie “Trainwreck.” Her career has since taken a different, more self-reflective turn in recent years, most notably with her no-holds barred and deeply personal HBO Max docuseries “Expecting Amy.” (In fact, at this stage in her career, it’ll feel downright strange to see her take on the Oscars stage, as she will alongside Wanda Sykes and Regina Hall on March 27.) So it’s not altogether surprising that Schumer has leaned even further into introspection with something as semi-autobiographical as “Life & Beth.”

An impressionistic half-hour dramedy, the series feels less like a sitcom than a cousin of FX shows like “Louie,” “Better Things,” and even “Baskets.” The directing style — first honed by Schumer and then taken up by “Inside Amy Schumer” co-producers Kane, Ryan McFaul, and Daniel Powell — is languid in its more realistic scenes until it weaves in jarring moments of surrealism, usually in how it incorporates flashbacks to Beth as a teen (played with nuanced empathy by Violet Young). An evocative jazz score by Ray Angry and Timo Elliston guides some of the show’s most effective scenes through their peaks and valleys, sometimes doing the heavy lifting for the emotional beats, and sometimes working alongside the actors on their way there. Eye-catching casting choices buttress Beth’s story, including 42 year-old Laura Benanti as Beth’s mother (which makes way more sense in flashbacks than in the present day), a surprisingly brittle Michael Rappaport as Schumer’s semi-grifter father, and even David Byrne as her doddering doctor.

As Beth, Schumer plays a self-described “passenger in the car of her own life.” The character both takes a step away from the omnipresent public perception its actor, who turns in a grounded performance that doesn’t especially need the scripts’ occasional dips into Hot Mess territory to be convincing. In this respect, the first act’s material that focuses on Beth making a slow-mo disaster of her own life makes for the show’s least compelling material by a mile, despite the best efforts of supporting actors like Murray Hill and Larry Owens as her coworkers and, later, comedian Yamaneika Saunders as one of Beth’s outgoing high school friends. There’s a reason, after all, why passive characters rarely anchor their own shows. Inertia doesn’t make for particularly dynamic TV, especially over a series of episodes that see them standing idly by as other people make decisions. It takes too long for “Life & Beth” to nudge its lead into the next phase of her life that actually drives the show. Once it does, though, that second act makes the show click right into gear.

These more affecting moments of “Life & Beth” come in no small part thanks to the actors embodying them, especially Young, Cera, and Savannah Flood as Beth’s straightforward younger sister, Ann. As John — whom Schumer has described as being based on her husband, who is on the autism spectrum — Cera sharpens his ability to deliver a clipped line to cut through his every scene. His forthright, abbreviated way of talking immediately clashes with the winding, self-deprecating style Schumer’s Beth adopts, but in a way that somehow complements it.

Though it takes a few episodes for them to have any significant time together, Cera and Schumer’s dynamic is the series’ clearest highlight. It’s no coincidence that the season’s best and most focused episode (“Boat”) features them, plus Flood, simply floating down a lake, tripping on mushrooms and relaxing just enough to find each other truly charming. That doesn’t need to be the case for every episode; in fact, it would be unbelievable if Beth and John got along that well, anyway. It’s frustrating that it takes until this sixth episode for some of the show’s puzzle pieces to find each other, but when they do, they make up a picture that’s more subtly moving than initially meets the eye.

“Life & Beth” premieres Friday, March 18 on Hulu.

Amy Schumer’s ‘Life & Beth’ Shifts the Comedian Into a More Passive, Introspective Gear: TV Review

Hulu, 10 episodes. (All reviewed.)

  • Production: Executive producers: Amy Schumer, Kevin Kane, Daniel Powell and Ryan McFaul.
  • Cast: Amy Schumer, Michael Cera, Susannah Flood, Violet Young, Yamaneika Saunders, Kevin Kane.