It felt like we had hit a saturation point with romantic comedy sitcoms (“sitromcoms,” if we had to pick a term for them, which we don’t). Shows like A to Z and Manhattan Love Story came and went quietly into the cancelation graveyard this television season with the viewing public barely shrugging at the results. So when you hear that FXX has yet another dating comedy on its block about an immature, innocuous everyman, it hardly sounds like something to get excited about.
In the opening minutes of Man Seeking Woman we see Josh Greenberg (Jay Baruchel) get dumped by his girlfriend Maggie (Maya Erksine), pining her loss as it rains down on him and the cliché music is turned up on the soundtrack. So what? And then the show starts to throw at you trolls, aliens, time travel, talking hands, trips to hell, and your standard Japanese Penis Monster. “So what?” suddenly turns into, “So what sort of peyote am I on?” because this sitcom might be one of the most creative, ambitious magic tricks to air in a long time.
Based on Simon Rich’s (Saturday Night Live) book of short stories, The Last Girlfriend on Earth, the show takes a surreal, fantastical look at dating and relationships and is unlike anything else you’ve seen before. Rich elaborates on all of this by explaining, “All the premises are kind of just surreal paintings of the experiences that I think we’ve all had.”
The mission statement is ironclad and Rich strengthens it by filling out his creative staff with some truly talented writers and Portlandia’s Jonathan Krisel handling most of the directing duties. It’s not hard to see how such a group can make something that’s so simple be so elaborate and exciting. Baruchel is the glue that holds all of this together, though. He plays all of this perfectly as his Buster Keaton naivety continues to cause him to trip and stumble through the dating scene, not only as if his shoelaces were tied together, but that he’s also got two left feet. And they’re flamingo feet.
Man Seeking Woman wrapped up its first season on Wednesday and Chris and I have decided to discuss what made the show such a deeply consistent, entertaining experiment of television.
There are plenty of sitcoms either about dating or with an integral romantic angle, but what of the many things that make this show different and why would you recommend to someone so they’ll check it out?
Daniel Kurland: What I love so much about this show and what feels different about it from not only any other dating show, but any other show at all, is that there is absolutely no boundary line between reality and fantasy here. They are the same thing. We’re not cutting away to Josh’s heightened perspective where his date looks like a troll; she is a troll. And no one at all has a problem with this. The closest thing I can think of really in terms of tone is Chris Elliot’s Get A Life from the ‘90s, but this is taking much bigger swings and about something entirely different.
Chris Longo: Look, you can either allow your girlfriend to make you sit through 500 Days of Summer for the third time or you can take back control of the remote and find something suitable for the both of you. I reference Marc Webb’s well-directed film because a lot of what makes that film enjoyable finds a home in Man Seeking Woman, only Simon Rich takes it three levels higher. As out there as the surreal concepts of Josh’s dating life are, what makes the show relatable for the non-Adult Swim crowd is how it stays rooted in reality long enough to not lose the casual viewer. Once you understand what it is, and it may take a few episodes, I think it resonates with the rom-com crowd, as well as fans of absurdist humor, Eric Andre disciples, guys who buy dick pills at gas stations, Japanese penis monsters, and so on.
Man Seeking Woman is focused specifically on the ridiculous trials and tribulations of dating, but do you think the show would benefit and still have a creative engine behind it if Josh eventually got into a long-term relationship?
Daniel Kurland: The show keeps giving us these crazy ideas spun off from dating stories–usually first-date stories–but there’s just as much absurd relationship material to exploit from the tropes of long-term dating, anniversaries, going through an engagement, or even marriage. I don’t see Josh getting there anytime soon, but I don’t think saddling him up with someone would reduce the show’s creativity. It might re-position it, but the series’ voice would still very much be present and remain the same.
Chris Longo: Not only do I think it would work, but I’d put money on it being the main storyline of season two. With Josh finally over his ex, his character needs a new direction. Whether he continues his trial and error approach to dating or hooks a long-term girlfriend two minutes into the season two premiere, I have the utmost faith in Simon Rich delivering a season that continues kick over the crutches that hold up conventional romantic comedies.
The series was constantly creating inspired metaphors and homages to certain aspects of the dating world. What did you think was the best and worst execution of a concept from this season?
Daniel Kurland: There are almost too many! Some of my favorites have been “Gavel’s” courtroom scenes that dissected the honesty and morality behind our decisions in a relationship. It might have been one of the more obvious references made in the show, but Liz’s Bride of Frankenstein sequence (complete with black-and-white color palette) where she attempts to create her perfect man worked really well for me and she sold the hell out of it. My absolute favorite though was the epic scene from “Traib” in the War Room, pulling from Dr. Strangelove, where the minutiae of the perfect text message is gotten into with severe intensity. It’s an incredible scene and a good example of what this show is capable of when it’s firing on all cylinders. I think all of those really connected brilliantly and the parallels were particularly strong.
I don’t think any of these ideas necessarily fell flat, but a few of the weaker ones were some of the more straightforward ideas like Maggie’s remaining belongings floating around Josh’s apartment, literally haunting it with her baggage. This is nitpicking though.
Chris Longo: The standout scene for me, the one that really hooked me on this show, was the “The Perect Text.” SEND THE DICK PIC, JOSH!
Like Daniel said, I really can’t think of a gag that fell flat. With each surreal take on dating, I was thrown off by this show every step of the way and found myself constantly uttering: “This show is the most creative thing on television.” It often takes multiple seasons for a comedy to find its voice. When was the last time we saw a comedy be this consistent in its first season?
After shifting the perspective to Liz’s point of view in “Teacup,” would you like to see another episode focusing on a different character, like Mike for instance? What if they did an episode like this every season?
Daniel Kurland: I’m all for this sort of thing. I was impressed to even see the show messing around with format at all this early in the game, especially with only a ten-episode season to play with and no guarantee that they’d be renewed. “Teacup” was maybe my favorite episode of the season, so I’m absolutely into this idea. The problem is that the female side of dating is obviously the main binary to what the show is exploring with Josh. I’d love to see an episode through Mike or Maggie’s perspective, and how they go about dating, but it feels like it would have less impact than what was done here. There’d need to be another fresh dimension being added still.
Chris Longo: I’ll take it a step further. No disrespect to Baruchel, who is made for this role, but this show works without Josh. The concept and execution is that good. In “Teacup,” Josh only appears at the end, allowing Liz (played wonderfully by Britt Lower) to flourish and a robot to hit it and quit it. If Man Seeking Woman were an anthology series, with new characters and a new setting each season, it could be the True Detective of comedy. While that won’t happen, I think taking the focus off Josh did wonders. Not that we needed a break, but when you pull off an episode like “Teacup,” it makes you want to explore the world Rich has created beyond Josh.
The show is already beyond ambitious, and while there’s a subtle continuity present, it’s primarily been an episodic show. Do you think it would benefit the series to experiment with a more serialized story arc approach next season?
Daniel Kurland: I think the show’s concept is kind of perfect for an episodic nature. The idea that every episode is a different ridiculous date for Josh is a very easy structure to get behind. The show’s a chameleon. Every week it can be something different, and that’s very appealing. That being said, I don’t think it would hurt the show if they did experiment with this more. For instance, when Josh loses his penis, maybe it’s gone for three or four episodes before finally retrieving it. When Josh and Mike go to Hell for the destination wedding, maybe they’re stuck in Hell for a few episodes. Perhaps Josh and his girlfriend Rachel stay surgically conjoined for more than a single episode before eventually breaking up. Ultimately this is just elongating things they did this year, but it’s such a distinct show already that these touches would push it even further in that direction. Why not?
Chris Longo: Trying to fit Man Seeking Woman into a box is dangerous for a show this creative. As we talked about earlier with Josh potentially getting a long-term girlfriend, in a way it was partially serialized as the ex-girlfriend storyline carried us through the finale. Now with Josh finally over the one he thought got away, I imagine we’ll get a theme running throughout season two. What will it be? It’s almost futile to speculate. Man Seeking Woman is television’s most creative comedy. I’ll be expecting the unexpected in season two.