‘Difficult People’ Is A Much-Needed Guilty Pleasure In These Polite Times

Features Editor
07.12.16
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I read an article over the weekend about how millennials are supposedly ruining the workforce. I’m on the ancient end of the millennial spectrum, so I’m always eager to see what’s new in generational criticism, and apparently, one of the article’s complaints is that millennials are over-polite. Again, I’m at the ancient end of the spectrum, so this isn’t something I recognize in myself.

Halfway through the very funny first episode of Difficult People‘s second season (which is presently streaming on Hulu), I pressed pause and sent a message to a younger co-worker in all caps, “HOW DO YOU NOT LOVE THIS SHOW?” She responded, “They were just so MEAN.” I do not understand this complaint.

If you were raised on Seinfeld, then you probably believe, as do I, that self-absorption and meanness are the meat and potatoes of good TV comedy. Sitcoms get a bad rap for the perceived abundance of hugs and lessons, but human sh*ttiness is way more common. At least among the smartest and the best of the best. Look at Cheers, Murphy Brown, CommunityIt’s Always Sunny, Arrested DevelopmentCurb Your Enthusiasm, and You’re the Worst (which my aforementioned co-worker praised, proving she’s not totally anti-meanness) — there are countless times when the characters on those shows were and are awful to each other and the rest of the world. Difficult People gets that. It also gets the scarred beauty of dysfunctional friendships.

In the show, Billy (Billy Eichner) and Julie (Julie Klausner) have a hazardously co-dependent relationship. Together, they are bitter, needy, selfish, and rude. Their hobbies include judging others, making fun of each other, being disappointed, and being exhausted by life as they quest for everyone to shut the f*ck up and get out of their way so they can be famous.

If you can relate, generally, to that kind of relationship and/or you can acknowledge your own semi-terribleness, then Difficult People is probably for you. But if you’re polite and/or put off by meanness, then you may run screaming from the show. And that’s fine, to each their own, but if you do, then you are truly missing out on the delectable experience of feeling like a small part of you is shocked and appalled that you are laughing. That is the definition of guilty pleasure and also a direct reminder that we should maybe selfishly laugh a little more at ourselves and each other, and maybe loosen up a bit.

I suspect that Klausner, the show’s creator and star, realizes that being “mean” may be falling out of favor and becoming taboo, and that the show is a pushback against that. I think Klausner loves to play with that idea as well, pushing the show’s barbed humor deeper under the skin in the second season.

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