There are only a few really good television shows and a few really bad television shows. The rest float in-between, taking up space while earning a few fans who see a pop of charming color where others see a familiar shade of grey. Knockoffs born out of necessity on all sides. Procedurals, romantic comedies, anti-romantic comedies, family sitcoms, and thrillers that either vaguely or clearly look, feel, and sound like something else without a present effort to improve upon that something or try a different approach. Cover songs instead of remixes.
Simon Rich’s Man Seeking Woman is a remixed version of a romantic odyssey with elements from sci-fi, horror, and fantasy. That’s what makes the Jay Baruchel-starring FXX comedy series stand out from the grey and mediocre: its uncommon approach to the common.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to turn Man Seeking Woman‘s series premiere into a smash hit in the ratings, so it seemed only right to let a few more people know about this unique show while mapping out four reasons why you should give Man Seeking Woman a look if you haven’t. A long look, because…
It’s Wonderfully Weird And Weirdly Wonderful
The first episode featured a troll in a party dress and Bill Hader as a 126-year-old version of Adolf Hitler (above). This week, we get to see an exorcism and a situation room where the finer points of texting a girl are dissected, and in the coming weeks, we’ll see Baruchel’s character, Josh Greenberg, visit hell, a Sarah Silverman-voiced hand, and a Japanese Penis Monster.
If you’re like me, these things are pulling you into this show, but others may be turned off by the fact that it feels like a romantic comedy as drawn in crayon by a child who puts monsters and aliens where they should not be.
To them, I say stick around for three or four episodes before making up your mind. This show’s broader elements are understandably getting all the press, but the show is actually a sweet tale about the pursuit of love. It’s highly relatable.
Rich is simply trying to bring metaphor to life with Man Seeking Woman. Of course the first girl that Josh dates after his girlfriend Maggie breaks up with him is going to pale in comparison, but rather than embrace the trope fully by sending him out on a date with some comedically loud or otherwise unsavory human character, Rich takes it to its furthest point with the troll. The same thing goes for Maggie’s new boyfriend: would it have been better if Rich would have cast some muscle-bound dude-bro to stand in as Josh’s polar opposite, or is it better to take it further and use Hitler?
Man Seeking Woman‘s respect for the rom-con genre’s structure and common machinery is endearing, but it isn’t going to limit Simon Rich as he presumably tries to work his way to “happily ever after.” If the destination matters more than the journey for you and you’re not afraid to get a little weird, this show might be just right for you.
Simon Rich And The Source Material
Man Seeking Woman‘s concept is taken from Rich’s short story collection, The Last Girlfriend On Earth. The book is brilliant and the birthplace of show storylines like Maggie’s relationship with Hitler and the exorcism, but there are also elements that probably won’t make it into the show. The life journey of a wallet condom is a good example of something that might not fit within the construct of the show. “Occupy Jen’s Street” — which seems to lampoon both big romantic gestures and directionless social movements — is another.
Besides The Last Girlfriend On Earth, Rich has written two novels and three more short story collections, but I can’t speak to the majesty of those works. Not yet, at least. To be honest, before Man Seeking Woman, I had only known Rich’s name from his work as a writer on Saturday Night Live and from the above appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers. Now I’m eager to jump into the rest of Rich’s catalog. He really does possess a unique comedic mind that is fully on-display when read.
Man Seeking Woman is extremely close to mimicking the inventiveness of his stories, but as good as it is, it doesn’t represent the ceiling of what Rich is going to do behind a camera.
I’ve seen more than a few people compare Rich to a young Woody Allen, and that makes sense in terms of Rich’s willingness to push the envelope while telling small stories with outlandish ideas, but Rich’s work — at least in Man Seeking Woman — also possesses the warmth and intelligence of Albert Brooks’ earlier work. This show feels like a beginning for Rich, and it’s always interesting to watch an artist mature and grow early on.
The Performances And The Behind-The-Scenes Talent
Staying behind-the-scenes for a moment, Rich’s writer’s room is pretty impressive, with Simpsons veteran Ian Maxtone-Graham, Robert Padnick from The Office, The Onion’s Dan Mirk, and playwright Sofia Alvarez. The show also utilizes Paul Jones to make all of the assorted creatures and makeup creations that sell Rich’s bizarre world, and he does a spectacular job.
If you’re a Saturday Night Live fan and you need reassurances that Man Seeking Woman is worth your time, then maybe Lorne Michaels’ involvement in the establishment of the show will motivate you to give it a glimpse, though it seems like Michaels puts the ball into people’s hands and lets them create when he has a pre-existing relationship with them, ala Tina Fey (30 Rock) and Fred Armisen (Portlandia).
As for the cast, they’re also quite talented and certainly well-placed. “Josh” is a typical Jay Baruchel role. Nervous, kind of dorky, but likeable, and well meaning. That he excels as our romance-seeking warrior against calamity is not surprising, but it’s still a feather in the cap of this show that it uses his talents appropriately. As I said before, this show is relatable, and Baruchel is a big reason why.
As Liz, Josh’s sister, Britt Lower comes off as pushy and judgmental in the first episode, but in episode two she gives a little more insight into her relationship with Josh while demonstrating how easily she can get wrapped up in his pursuits.
It’s hard to have a clear opinion on Mike (Eric Andre) and Maggie (Maya Erskine) thus far. As a wisdom-giving player and Josh’s cooler best friend, Andre is pitch-perfect, but I want to know a little bit more about the character and why he’s so sex-obsessed and commitment-phobic. Maggie is another mystery because I don’t know if she’s going to continue to haunt Josh, if their paths are going to cross again romantically, or if she’s simply going to ride off into the sunset on Adolf Hitler’s wheelchair.
Speaking of Hitler, Hader plays him like a horny and bigoted grandpa, and it’s both creepy and hilarious. No idea if he’ll be back, but it would be great if he was. But for 126-year-old Hitler and other characters to get fully unpacked, this show needs a little longevity, and for that to happen…
Man Seeking Woman Can’t Get Written-Off As A “Cult-Comedy”
As I said up-top, despite its imagination, its unique feel, the talent involved, its 81% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and its other merits, Man Seeking Woman didn’t come out of the gate as a tremendous hit in the ratings last week. That certainly doesn’t mean that it’s marked for death — I doubt that FXX developed the show with the expectation that it would be an immediate success — but it feels like it could eventually get the cult show label, and that’s not always good.
The “cult” label is exclusionary by nature, sounding as though the door is closed and the club is private. I’ve been guilty of this myself, using “cult” to describe minimally popular shows that are smart, original, and/or weird, with a passionate fan base. And while Man Seeking Woman fits most of that criteria, it would be a shame for people to think that it isn’t for them at a time when there is so much sameness on television. When that happens, the interesting things get pushed further toward the fringes and the grey void grows.