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There’s a notion that if you get a chance to make a comedy somewhere with a high-quality reputation, such as, say, FX, you need to kick at the boundaries and dent up the recognizable elements of the genre to produce something that’s — terrible, but apt, word alert — edgy.
This has often led to crappy shows that die on the cross of being hipper-than-thou. On the other hand, a confident creator-writer like, say, Mike Judge doesn’t need to worry about how sharp his right angles are or how anyone will perceive whatever it is he comes up with. Hence, his HBO series Silicon Valley looks more “traditional” but came out of the box as one of television’s funniest comedies.
All of this is relevant because Wednesday at 10:30 p.m. FXX launches its latest comedy, Man Seeking Woman, starring Jay Baruchel.
Created by Simon Rich and based on his story collection, “The Last Girlfriend on Earth,” Man Seeking Woman is a wonderfully absurdist and often ridiculously silly take on one man’s attempt both to find a woman after getting dumped and to understand any woman.
I watched the three episodes that FXX provided and laughed throughout, taken in by the often simple but absurd comedy at hand and how effortlessly it was being doled out. Some of it was lighter in spots than others, but the series has a very distinctive comedic voice and a striking visual approach that it keeps up through the episodes. If Man Seeking Woman were an animated series, it would be full of crazy asides and flashbacks to scenes played out as the characters speak of the events that befell them in the last few days or weeks. But it’s not animation, so when sad-sack Josh Greenberg (Baruchel) splits from his girlfriend Maggie (Maya Erskine), he walks out on a sunny day and a rain cloud (and birds) pours down on his head. This is repeated a few times.
Beyond being absurdist, there’s a fantastical element as well. The pilot features a moment when Josh’s sister, Liz (Britt Lower), introduces him to her Swedish friend, who happens to be a troll (yep, suit, make-up, full monster-like regalia) and the two have dinner. It doesn’t go well.
Josh’s best friend, Mike (Eric Andre), is easily picking up women on Tinder, but Josh is no good at it. They end up going to a party at Maggie’s place, but Josh has no idea that Maggie has moved on and is now dating….Hitler (Bill Hader), who is roughly 127 years old and in a wheelchair. When Josh, who is Jewish, points out that this is offensive, people at the party say, “Don’t make this about you.”
These are the small moments in Man Seeking Woman that give the show its quirkily simple stamp. In lesser hands -— say, a broadcast network — a scene in which Mike calls in an Italian-Catholic priest to do an exorcism so that Josh will get rid of all of Maggie’s things in his apartment could go horribly wrong. Here, it’s funny partly because it’s silly and partly because the items are so spot-on (almond milk).
There’s a scene in the second episode about the politics of sending a text message, a topic so common and joked-about as to seemingly have nothing fresh left, yet Man Seeking Woman milks the joke to perfection.
And how can anyone not like a series that has a running gag about not finishing the last two episodes of Carnivale?
Baruchel is immensely likable and makes an appropriately nerdy/unstylish 25-ish Everyguy. Moreover, his character is different from most in that he doesn’t just want to get laid, he wants to be in a relationship. That will lead him to a number of encounters with women but, more important, it keeps Josh from being a jerk (at least in the first three episodes). Man Seeking Woman, while certainly told from and speaking to a male perspective, doesn’t cross the line and belittle or denigrate women — a fact likely attributable to Josh’s DNA and Baruchel’s relatability.
Andre and Lower also are excellent. It remains to be seen if this show fits on FXX (luckily it follows It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), but if you’re up for something a little different and less annoyingly hip, definitely seek it out.
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