Like Will & Grace, Hulu’s just-launched Difficult People centers on a woman and her gay best friend living in New York City. But according to creator/star Julie Klausner and her fellow actor Billy Eichner, the comparisons end there.
During their promotional stop at the Television Critics Association summer press tour Sunday, Klausner suggested that she and Eichner pitched the series — about struggling New York City stand-ups/BFFs Julie Kessler (Klausner) and Billy Epstein (Eichner), who can’t figure out why nobody likes them — as something far less polished than the late 1990’s comedy. “We would say, ‘What we assume you’re looking for is Will & Grace, if they were unlikable and they were like a six and a seven,’ ” she said to laughs in the Beverly Hilton ballroom, adding more seriously: “We’re dealing with a generation that has way less tolerance for bullshit. They wouldn’t want a multicam sitcom with two really good looking people.”
But now that Klausner has completed the series’ first season, which premiered August 5, she takes issue with the classification of her characters as unlikable. “It’s [more] about them being ungracious,” she explained. “The truth of the matter is that you like people who are funny — characters who are funny. Is David Brent [of the BBC’s The Office] unlikable? No, he’s an asshole, but he’s fun to spend time with and I think that’s the difference.”
She and Eichner, along with showrunner Scott King, spent much of the half-hour panel praising Hulu, which stepped in and ordered the Amy Poehler-produced comedy after USA opted not to move forward. (Difficult People suffered from a case of poor timing at the NBCU cable network, which dissolved its scripted comedy department as the project was being developed.) At the streaming service, the actors — she also writes, he often ad-libs — insisted they were able to keep the comedy uniquely them, which can make for obscure pop culture call-outs on occasion.
“We have a Tony Kushner reference in the first episode of our show and nobody said boo about it,” said Klausner, with Eichner adding: “It’s kind of like a dare, in a way. It’s like, this is is who we are and these are the things that we talk about. We’re deeply entrenched in culture, high and low, 24/7.”
He continued, insisting that he didn’t miss the so-called advantages of being on a traditional network where viewers ostensibly would watch the show at the same time: “I don’t think we’re capable of doing a show that is pandering to the mainstream,” he said. “Hulu is the right place for [Difficult People] because it allowed us to be ourselves. We didn’t have to water it down. It’s not diluted at all — take it or leave it. And I don’t think we would have gotten the same creative license after Mike & Molly.”