In the spirit of Amy Sedaris’ eclectic truTV comedy, “At Home With Amy Sedaris,” let’s start this review with an activity. Don’t worry — it’s a relatively passive request. I’m not asking you to make mail into paper mâché animals, and my baking skills aren’t ready for publishing. Just take 90 seconds to watch this video:
…did you watch it? Or did you skip to this paragraph, thinking, “I’ve already seen Sedaris’ sketches,” or, “I barely have time to click on this review, let alone watch a video,” or, “Wait, how did I end up here? I meant to click the story about ‘Joker'”? Whatever your reason to skip the clip, really, take the time to watch it.
Now then, other than irritation at being bossed around by some so-called TV critic, how do you feel? Confused, maybe? Intrigued? A little lighter? A little sillier? In need of far more Michael Shannon? (If it’s the latter, start here.) Any and all of those reactions make sense for a show that’s as indefinable as “At Home” — Sedaris has long specialized in absurd creativity, using her improv training and incredible range to find humor in light and dark corners alike. With her truTV original series, lip-curling ludicrousness can spring from the unexpected guests dropping by her stage-home, strange phrases slipped into an otherwise routine conversation, or an inexplicable story arc that sees a pregnancy go full-term over 23 minutes.
“At Home with Amy Sedaris” only really makes sense when you give in to its unique sensibilities. But that can be hard these days; it can be challenging to focus your full attention on anything, even though getting lost in a great TV show is exactly what everyone wants. It’s tempting to argue “At Home” offers such sought-after escapism. Sedaris’ bright and cheery home, with its walls as radiant as cartoon sunshine, is as welcoming as it is distanced from reality; episodes carry their own fluctuating set of rules, whether it’s how we understand time’s passage or what, exactly, separates an actor from the role they’re playing. In Episode 2, Michael Cera plays a delivery man named Travis, but that doesn’t stop a jilted Tony The Knife Guy (played by Dave Pasquesi) from threatening to kill “Michael Cera.”
Taken in the moment, such inexplicable idiosyncrasies are delightful, and they stack up quickly to make for a mind-boggling half-hour of television with one surprise after another. But “At Home” is only as engaging as you allow it to be. There’s not enough of a serialized through-line to pull you from episode to episode in a brain-consuming binge, nor does Sedaris request her viewers invest in the many characters who come dancing through. “At Home” is light entertainment. Maybe you’ll repeat a line (or six) to your quarantine partner — “you need to prepare your face” is a multi-purpose gem; maybe you’ll be inspired to make donut bird feeders; maybe you’ll see a favorite actor in a new light (like, say, Michael Shannon).
Those kind of frivolous joys may not seem like endorsement enough to seek out “At Home,” but those simple, quick, perception-shifting pleasures also feel like what many of us are missing in our current state of mass hysteria. Lives are changing more drastically and with greater speed than anyone is accustomed to; announcements from government leaders have to be fact-checked against scientific advice; parents are teachers, customers are waiting in line just to enter the grocery store, and priests aren’t the only ones treating bread-making with religious devotion — what little time there is for extraneous activity has to be carefully chosen. Choose right, and you’ll get the reprieve you crave. Choose wrong, and you’re stuck with your own anxieties for another half-hour or hourlong chunk.
So let me just tell you: The “perfect show to watch right now” — you know, the thing you’re praying pops up in your nightly Netflix scroll, before giving up and watching “White Lines” again — it doesn’t exist. Everyone’s needs are different, and for proof, look no further than people devouring “Contagion” on-demand, readers growing obsession with Ling Ma’s “Severance,” or, say, a certain critic’s long-term devotion to “The Leftovers.” When early predictions said the pandemic could wipe out 2 percent of the world’s population, the same figure taken in the show, people started talking about “The Leftovers” again, and a lot of people said, “Don’t watch it! It’s too sad! You can’t handle it right now!” Well, guess what? “Full Frontal” host Samantha Bee told me she started Season 1 a few weeks ago and “loves” it. Plenty more are re-watching or just now discovering the Garvey clan (led by Sedaris’ BFF and recurring guest star Justin Theroux). All this is to say your escapist needs aren’t the same as everyone else’s, and pretending to know a universal mental health plan for television consumption is as foolish as ignoring the benefits of universal health care in general.
Phil Caruso / truTV / WarnerMedia
This TV critic doesn’t get much of a choice in what I watch — release schedules determine my queue — but here’s what made me feel good this week. Watching episodes of “At Home with Amy Sedaris” to prepare for Season 3 led to an episode guest-starring Rose Byrne, and imagine my excitement upon seeing the woman currently playing Gloria Steinem in FX on Hulu’s “Mrs. America” walk into Sedaris’ hobby room. She’s beaming through the whole thing, being enthusiastic and silly, effortless and carefree, committed and funny — and damn it, if she doesn’t look happier to be on “At Home” than “Mrs. America.” Obviously she’s acting — Byrne is a great actor, and Gloria Steinem had a lot of reasons to be upset while fighting for women’s rights in the 1970s. But that also means viewers have a lot of reasons to be upset watching “Mrs. America” and zero reasons to be upset during “At Home;” while I absolutely adore “Mrs. America” and find Steinem’s organizing efforts inspiring, my colleagues have a harder time watching it. And that’s OK! For some, “Mrs. America” is a reminder of life’s difficulties more than a recess from them — it might be the best show on TV, but that doesn’t mean they should force themselves to sit through it.
Even if “Mrs. America” will generate more thinkpieces, awards, and “must-see” pleas, my time with it is just as valuable as my time at “Home With Amy Sedaris.” While the significance of “Mrs. America” is evident with every E.R.A. sign waving across the screen, it’s harder to express the value of pure, unfiltered levity — but it’s still there. Hopefully, you felt it for a second when you watched Michael Shannon offer Amy Sedaris his “man’s watch,” and just maybe you can find it again while living in a “Home” where only good things happen. You don’t have to stay there forever. Whether you’re taking a break from prestige TV, bad TV you can’t help but binge, or reality with all its unceasing awfulness — “At Home with Amy Sedaris” is a respite worth taking, and a really funny show. The latter feels like what Sedaris wants more than anything, and sometimes, that’s what we actually need.
“At Home with Amy Sedaris” Season 3 premieres Wednesday, May 20 at 10 p.m. ET on truTV. Seasons 1 and 2 will be available to stream on HBO Max when the service launches May 27.