“You ever seen Carnivale?”
Man Seeking Woman is all Jay Baruchel as a hapless everyman named Josh Greenberg who is looking for love, arguably, sounds very pedestrian. Even intentionally so. But the first line of the episode has Josh going on about the final two episodes of Carnivale which is exactly the sort of deep cut of pop culture I’m interested in and alienates most audiences. Perhaps this will be different.
That’s not what you should be getting excited about here though, but rather the intensely surreal, hyperbolic tone of the show. Immediately after Josh is dumped by his longtime girlfriend, a storm cloud rains down only on him, as dead birds fall down at his feet. And that’s barely the tip of the insaneberg you get with this show.
You guys have no idea.
The pilot episode sees Josh’s first setup after re-entering the single life being with a literal troll, Gorbachaka. That’s the sort of absurd show you’re getting here, as Josh waxes on about garbage as he tries to find common ground with his morbid date. It’s not even going half-bad until Josh makes an “internet trolling” slur and things get out of hand and blood is drawn.
Then Josh and friends go to a party where he finds out that his ex is now dating the actual Adolf Hitler (“Greenberg? Uh oh!”). No, the romantic antagonist here isn’t some jock, or creative threat, but just the main character of the second World War. ‘Dolfy’s 156 right now, by the way. And all of the jokes with him are winners, believe it or not.
While the show knocks it out of the park with the art direction and effects done for all the heightened pieces of weirdness like Gorbachaka, what makes it work even better is the completely deadpan, naturalistic delivery and tone that Baruchel, Eric Andre (who’s certainly underused in this episode), and the rest of the cast treat all of this with. There’s a debate that goes on about why Josh should date this troll, with no one addressing the obvious fact that she’s a troll (Josh’s parents even push the idea). The juxtaposition of extremes creates this beautiful hybrid that is truly unlike anything else on television right now, and perhaps not since Spaced (the visual style certainly feels like it) or Chris Elliot’s Get A Life.
It’s all the better then that the show’s extremely simple premise of “a recently single guy getting back in the dating pool” undersells and completely unprepares you for the madness that you’re in store for. Just like the characters treat the insanity as mundaneness, and you’re expected to do, too.
It’s kind of astonishing how almost every scene in the episode is some kind of marvelous set piece in alternative comedy. A lot is being thrown at you here and the bulk of it works. There’s the generic world-coming-down-on-Josh sort of stuff happening, but then there’s also bits where he has to repeatedly stammer and shout “I’m sorry, Hitler!” in front of a party full of guests.
While all of this is very pretty and dream-like it doesn’t always amount to much. There’s a flimsy message being pushed that once Josh is able to effectively move on and get another girl (in a welcome cameo by Vanessa Bayer), he’s rewarded with vast treasures and celebrity. Hell, the president even gives him a call. Presumably, as Josh continues to mature or better himself, this lucid reality will increasingly bend in his favor, but there still could have been a little more connectivity. Perhaps the troll turns human after he learns his lesson, or something less derivative.
It’s hard to quibble over things like this here when everything is just working so well. Baruchel is perfectly cast as the unsure Josh, the look and voice of Simon Rich are distinct and brilliant, and the show’s elasticity gives it much room to play in. This show has the potential for one of the most varied, ambitious first seasons you’ve ever seen. And that’s including Carnivale.