In the latest bit of outrage to hit the internet, some viewers are fired up about a joke in the pilot episode of Hulu’s new comedy series Difficult People (which debuted nearly a month ago) in which one of the main characters posts a tweet that reads “I can’t wait for Blue Ivy to be old enough for R. Kelly to piss on her.” The tweet exists only in the show world and isn’t real, but it’s still a nasty and brutal joke, and one which gets its creator in some serious trouble on the show and, as it turns out, in real life with stars Julie Klausner, Billy Eichner, and executive producer Amy Poehler all getting criticized for letting that bit make it to air. Some people have even flexed their internet muscles in an effort to have Hulu pull the show.
Here’s the thing, though, and this is maybe something that those who are in an uproar about the joke are missing: Difficult People is a show about characters who are not easy to like due to their feelings of entitlement, their steadfast notions of the world, and their general misanthropic nature. To sell those kinds of characters, they have to do seemingly despicable things and react in despicable ways when the world (in the show) responds. As depicted in the show, Billy and Julie are losers who think that bottling water from library water fountains is a solid gold idea. They ignore the needs of chemo patients to complain about their own petty woes and try to use injured veterans as a prop to settle personal scores. The faux Blue Ivy tweet isn’t among the ten worst things that they’ve done, and yet despite all of this, they actually jump past likeability and even become lovable due to the series’ superb construction and keen self-awareness. Is that a good thing when you consider all of their bad behavior including a faux tweet about a celebribaby whose wished for destiny is to be pissed upon by the “I Believe I Can Fly” guy? Can such actions be excused as mere “jokes” without social commentary about veterans or Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s baby? Maybe? It’s all subjective, just like this assessment of the show: Difficult People is the most biting, true, and above all, funny series to debut in years, and here are a few reasons why.
Stars Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner are a great on-screen pairing.
Klausner (who also created the series) and Eichner (who is way more multi-dimensional here than his one-note turn on the final seasons of Parks & Recreation) are finally given their chance to shine. They play characters trying to make it as comics in New York City, with Julie making cash by writing caustic recaps of shows for the internet and Billy working as a bad waiter in a small cafe. Having each done their time in the comedic trenches, their showbiz experiences inform the show with a real truth. As a result, a throwaway joke about say Ross Matthews or Susan Sarandon becomes especially biting.
Julie and Billy’s relationship feels so real because it is based on years of living in the same world and attempting to achieve mutual goals in the comedy world. The success the show is currently enjoying did not happen overnight. Word of mouth is its greatest selling point thus far, and, if the Blue Ivy controversy is anything to judge by, also its biggest opponent. That’s life in the internet age though, and something whose irony the tech-savvy characters on the show itself would probably love.
It’s the spiritual successor to Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm
This show could not exist without Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm coming before it. Both of those series also feature protagonists who are lovable despite their many flaws. To further delve into the mire of what the Julie and Billy characters are made of, these are shallow, clueless, and deeply miserable showfolk, but thanks to some clever writing and the sympathetic acting on the part of the show’s leads they achieve that lovability despite their frequent bouts with vapidity. The show also acknowledges its roots, like at the end of the fourth episode when, presented with the cherry atop a particularly calamity-filled and miserable day, Billy and Julie hum the Curb theme song to themselves.
The characters’ actions have consequences.
There is a price to pay for being a difficult person, and that almost always will impact your personal and professional relationships. This is a recurring motif with the series thus far. In the first episode, Julie suffers the consequences of making her now-infamous outside of the show tweet about Blue Ivy when the internet and a mother whom she insulted at a matinee of Annie both turn on her for her dark sense of humor. The second episode has Billy losing out on a chance to be in a Vice Versa remake because he hits former Talking Head lead singer David Byrne (fun fact, Byrne was actually played by some guy whose name I could probably find with some research on IMDB that you can now do if you are so inclined) while driving a friend’s van and then takes off.
Additional installments feature Billy getting his comeuppance for dumping a guy who was a “participator” (another example of Larry David’s influence on the series) and those backfiring attempts to befriend a veteran. The point is that they do not get away with their shenanigans and any modicum of success that they achieve unravels almost immediately.
The supporting cast is perfect.
Amongst the regular supporting cast members are SCTV veteran Andrea Martin as Julie’s self-obsessed therapist mom, The Venture Bros‘ James Urbaniak as her foodie/PBS-toiling boyfriend Arthur, and Gabourey Sidibe as Billy’s favorites playing boss. And then there are the guest stars, which have thus far included Fred Armisen, Rachel Dratch, Martin Short, Marc Shaiman, Kate McKinnon, and Andy Cohen (with the trailer promising upcoming appearances from Debbie Harry, Seth Meyers, and Ana Gasteyer). This stellar assortment of comedic minds goes behind the scenes too, with Jake Fogelnest (podcaster extraordinaire and one-time Squirt TV host) serving as the series’ story editor.
The show deftly comments on our love/hate relationship with fame.
There is a scene in the latest episode where Billy and Julie are slighted by an HBO exec and proceed to caustically mock the network for their choices in response long after said executive has left before quickly transitioning into a pathetic place where they begin to, under their breath, beg for someone to give them a show. A funny moment but also a great comment on a key component of the show: fame is elusive and something to be craved, but until it is attained, f*ck everyone who found the trap door and a way in. Is it wrong to think that hidden within every snarky tweet or blog post about a film, TV show, or actor beats that tumorous heart?
It welcomes repeat viewing.
Difficult People is a show that is eminently quotable, especially if you are the type of person who winces whenever you see that someone has brought their kids along to the theater or if you find yourself uncomfortable amongst your own relatives. It’s often dark and it moves fast, so the subtle richness of say a Klausner stare or an Eichner response might be lost on you the first go round. Yes, they are difficult indeed. But hey, you were warned.