Since Julia Child first brought fine cuisine to the masses with The French Chef in 1963, TV shows about homemaking have served a panoply of functions for the viewers that (heh) devour them. There are shows about fast cooking, cooking with weird ingredients, and trying to cook while Gordon Ramsay screams at you. There are shows about decorating, and crafting, and organizing — either because your house is too full of things that don't spark joy, or because your house is so full of things that the county code enforcement officer has been called in. Most homemaking shows are presented by experts who have worked their way up through segments on Today and published books before getting the chance to host. But right now, two of the most compelling homemaking shows on TV are being presented by women who made their (same) name doing comedy. That's right: I'm talking about Amy Schumer and Amy Sedaris.
To be fair to the multi-talented Sedaris, she has sort of followed the traditional route to lifestyle guru: between appearances in shows like Sex & The City and movies like Elf, she published I Like You: Hospitality Under The Influence in 2006 and Simple Times: Crafts For Poor People in 2010. But At Home With Amy Sedaris, which premiered its third season on truTV on May 20, will only incidentally teach the viewer a few tips and tricks for gracious living: it's really sketch comedy disguised as a homemaking show.
The Season 3 premiere, for example, was officially about "Babies," with segments about decorating a nursery, creating a mobile to hang over the crib, and making baby food from scratch, but when a maternity designer (Laura Benanti) encourages Amy to try on a look with a false baby bump, Amy convinces herself that she's actually pregnant, calling Dan Bartlett (Josh Hamilton) to tell him he's going to be a daddy. Since Dan went on one date with Amy 15 years ago and hasn't seen her since, this is shocking news, but Amy's not going to give up on their baby: she's 58 — this might be her last chance! After a commercial break, Amy has "given birth" to her son: a hyper-realistic baby ape doll she's named Huckleberry. When a group of local teens (led by Justin Theroux, a shock of neon hair hanging out of his knit cap) invite her to join them as they set a soccer ball on fire, Amy realizes motherhood is not for her and gives Huckleberry to his "daddy" to raise, brightly promising the viewer a segment on how to turn a baby room back into a craft room. Closing out the episode from her bed, Amy says, "My advice to any woman out there who is unsure about whether or not they're ready to raise a child: I say, have one and try it out for a day. You'll figure it out real quick." This is how At Home episodes tend to go: they start with a premise that would be completely anodyne on any other homemaking show — "Confectionaries," "Thanksgiving," "Cooking For One" — then spin out with the chaotic energy Sedaris is known for. It's Martha Stewart meets The Monkees.
Whereas Sedaris's show is fanciful and antic, Schumer's is timely and topical: Americans hadn't even been self-quarantining to protect themselves from COVID-19 for a full month when the Food Network announced that Schumer would be hosting a qurantine cooking show, shot in her home without a crew. Amy Schumer Learns To Cook premiered May 11 and stars, alongside Schumer, her husband Chris Fischer; their nanny Jane; and their infant son Gene (although he has only a tiny supporting role since they tend to shoot during his naps). It's kind of a perfect diversion for Fischer and Schumer, in that he is a chef, restaurateur, and James Beard Award-winning cookbook author, and she has made her living in part by riffing extemporaneously. Were I in her position, I'm not sure how hard I'd be trying to learn how to cook anything, knowing that my husband could do it better than I ever could (as it is, I'm married to an excellent home cook and neither of us wants me to make anything more challenging than the odd grilled cheese), but it certainly makes more sense for them do this on TV while self-isolating than for her to try to sell Comedy Central a weekly standup show with two adults and a baby as her audience.
What's interesting about Schumer and At Home premiering within a week of each other — apart from the coincidence of the subject matter and their common first name (if NBC were also dropping a new season of Making It right now, with co-host Amy Poehler, then we'd really have ourselves a trend piece) — is that while their approaches to homemaking could not be more wildly different, they reflect the comedic traditions that shaped them. Sedaris came up in sketch comedy as a performer in troupes in Chicago's Second City and Annoyance Theatre. When she's playing even the heightened version of herself on the show, she routinely lets herself be the straight man in segments that allow her guest stars to shine: the series is a showcase for both veteran performers like Jane Krakowski, Peter Serafinowicz, Matthew Broderick, David Pasquesi, Rose Byrne, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Walter, Richard Kind, Susan Sarandon, the aforementioned Theroux (who also plays the ghost of a sea captain in a memorable Season 2 episode), and Sedaris's longtime collaborators Paul Dinello and Stephen Colbert; but also newer talents like John Early, Bridget Everett, Sasheer Zamata, Ana Fabrega, Cole Escola, Julie Klausner, Greta Lee, and Conner O'Malley, among others. Schumer the standup comic is more generous than one might expect in sharing her "stage" with Fischer, and she seems to effortlessly come up with running jokes and keep them buoyant through multiple episodes: her antipathy toward fennel, apparently Fischer's favorite ingredient, seems half bit and half sincere. Anyone who's watched her specials might worry that someone who tends to work so blue might be constrained by the language limitations of basic cable TV, to say nothing of the culinary subject matter, but Schumer riffs as easily and amusingly about food as she does about minor marital spats.
Another major contrast: there's no acknowledgment in At Home of the current moment. Based on Sedaris's Instagram, production on the show wrapped around the end of February. Far be it from me to guess how Sedaris may yet create comedy out of the pandemic, but just because she can be playful doesn't mean she's afraid to get dark: this is a woman who used to use her Late Show appearances to regale David Letterman with stories about her imaginary boyfriend Ricky until, in 2006, she announced that he'd been murdered. I just wonder if she would lean in on the darkness while the crisis is still in progress, or if a future post-vaccine season of At Home (fingers crossed) might take a run at the subject allegorically. Amy's corner of "Research Triangle" has, to this point, been a place out of time, not one where current events intrude.
Current events can't help intruding on Amy Schumer Learns To Cook, of course. It's obvious in the the lo-fi no-crew setup — several cameras strategically mounted and remotely controlled by an offsite director, plus one in Jane's hands when she's not looking after Gene. On several occasions, Fischer mentions a substitution he's had to make to a recipe because a particular ingredient hasn't been available for pandemic-related reasons (including their location on Martha's Vineyard). Schumer reveals that 15 residents in her elderly father's nursing home have died of COVID-19, which is kind of heavy "banter" for the very first episode of your cute cooking show. It does lighten up from there, fortunately, with phone calls to Schumer's celebrity friends — Jennifer Lawrence in the second episode, and Danny DeVito in the third. Fischer's method of instruction will be frustrating for some viewers — he tends to measure in ratios rather than specific amounts — but as a non-cook, I appreciate the fact that his style is casual and unintimidating, and his dishes are hearty and unpretentious.
Those of us who aren't frontline workers are in our homes more than we ever have been before. We may be getting sick of looking at the pieces of art we chose when we moved in, and bored by the go-to meals we make ourselves. This is not a moment to expect perfection in your own homemaking; no one should even be aiming for that right now. What's perfect is the timing for two shows that make homemaking look fun, from two entertaining Amys. And if you don't have the will to make their Greek salad dip or eggshell mosaic? Neither of them would probably dream of judging you, which is just one reason spending time with them is such a pleasure.
Amy Schumer Learns to Cook airs Mondays at 10:00 PM ET on Food Network, while At Home With Amy Sedaris airs Wednesday nights at 10:00 PM ET on TruTV.
Writer, editor, and snack enthusiast Tara Ariano is the co-founder of Television Without Pity and Fametracker (RIP). She co-hosts the podcasts Extra Hot Great and Again With This (a compulsively detailed episode-by-episode breakdown of Beverly Hills, 90210), and has contributed to New York, the New York Times magazine, Vulture, Decider, Salon, and Slate, among many others. She lives in Austin.