Probably about 10 percent of what Amy Sedaris shares on her new show At Home with Amy Sedaris (premiering tonight on truTV) is useful instruction. All else is jokes, which fly so fast and are often delivered in such a deadpan manner it would probably take multiple viewings for the average viewer to catch them all. Fine with me! At Home is so packed with Sedaris’s absurdist charm, I feel like I could watch it forever.
More Tim & Eric than Martha Stewart, At Home with Amy Sedaris has the format and feel of a cooking show, though its directions are frequently imprecise and its weekly topics go beyond the culinary (episodes one and two, airing tonight, focus on fish and cooking for one, respectively, with upcoming episodes focusing on gift-giving and entertaining on a budget). The show is as relaxing as Food Network fare, and as disorienting as a K-hole.
Along the way, Sedaris plays a variety of characters that are all quirk and a revolving door of guests help weird things up. In the (temporarily) exclusive clip above, Difficult People’s Cole Escola plays Chassie Tucker, who assists Sedaris in making the Greek spinach pie spanakopita (one of the episode’s running gags is Sedaris screwing up her face into the exact same wince to accompany the Greek word every time she says it). Other guests on the first two episodes include the chronically underrated Heather Lawless, Paul Giamatti, and Todd Barry.
Sedaris’s wit is as sharp and surprising as a razor blade baked into a cake. She introduces red snapper like this: “A workman-like fish known of its firm texture and abundance of mercury. Perfect if slowly poisoning a loved one is on the menu.” There are bits on shellfish allergy (which Sedaris inflames by wearing dangling shrimp on each ear and then moving her head back and forth, which we watch in a surreal slow motion flashback) and the way dried glue clogs the tips of its bottles (don’t you just hate that?). She also has an impressive knack for non-sequitur transition: “Oh hello! I was just attaching these googly eyes to this peanut shell,” she says without further elaboration before segueing into the next topic.
Much of Sedaris’s humor comes from imbuing her sunny demeanor with slight, palpable tension—to prep a potato for baking, she suggests stabbing it with a fork repeatedly “like you might a hairdresser who cut your bangs too short.” She says this while beaming. In the intro of the cooking-for-one episode, Sedaris extols the virtues of dining alone by explaining, “I don’t need to be gently caressed while he whispers those sweet, tender words in my ear: ‘I love you, Amy, and you’ll never be alone.’” Then, she turns to second camera and spits, “Well I am alone and he’s a liar!”
Sedaris has a gift for making mundane truths multivalent—she renders them in words that make them sound as peculiar as possible and then delivers them with a matter-of-factness that twists things further into the bizarre. When leading an instruction on how to make “potato ships”—baked potatoes with tooth picks stuck in the top that hold paper flags, a sail made of a Kraft single, and a crow’s nest made out of a mushroom—Sedaris explains, “Now, if you have an apartment or a house or something and it’s really hot and you don’t want to turn your oven on, you can go to your local diner and they will sell you a potato to go.” It’s at least twice-baked absurdity.
If all of these seems rather...weedy to you, well, that’s because it is. While making “popsicle stick people” in Episode 3, Sedaris has her two child guests spread glue on the top of their popsicle sticks and then dip the stick in a bag of synthetic hair. “I came up with this late at night after...vaporizing,” she says, sending her joke way above the heads of the young people she’s guiding.
I could go on and on listing the jokes. Rarely does At Home with Amy Sedaris miss any of the several marks it goes for. It’s reminiscent of many things—Pee-Wee’s Playhouse is another obvious reference, though ability of one performer to make a cheap, barebones setup riveting via her charisma brought me back to the days of MTV’s Just Say Julie—but nothing has been quite exactly like this. Since the 1999 debut of Strangers with Candy, Sedaris has been a kind of cult fave, popping up on talk shows and the occasional movie or scripted series. She’s never quite saturated the culture, and so those of us who love her are regularly left wanting more. With At Home with Amy Sedaris, at last we get our fix.