Man Seeking Woman burst onto our television (or whatever) screens last year with its absurd take on dating, often swapping the real world for a torturous and hilarious fantasy realm where almost anything could happen… save for main character Josh Greenberg (Jay Baruchel) finding happiness.
This season, with his torch for his former serious girlfriend, Maggie, finally extinguished, Josh and the surrounding show could have doubled down on the weird and wonderful chase through the singles scene. But while that part of the show is still represented, something is a bit different in season two. In this interview with series creator Simon Rich, we discuss the challenge of adding depth to Man Seeking Woman‘s characters while not losing the identity of the show, the impact of losing Maggie as a character, the arrival of Rosa into Josh (and Mike’s) life, and this year’s batch of freaky creations.
Last season obviously centered on Josh’s quest to try to — at once — recapture Maggie’s love and kind of move on from her. What’s the central theme this season?
Simon Rich: This season is very much about unrequited love. The first season, I would say, is more about getting over heartbreak. This season is a lot more active. Most of the season involves Josh’s desperate quest to date a woman he works with named Rosa. Unfortunately for him, he gets embroiled in a competition with his best friend Mike (Eric Andre) for her. Which threatens to destroy the relationship forever. It’s very much about the pain of unrequited love and wanting the things that you can’t have. And that is a theme that appears in Josh’s story, but you also see it in Liz’s arc and in Mike’s as well. It is, for all the characters, about the pain of loving someone who isn’t necessarily right for you.
What are some of the benefits and what are some of the drawbacks of moving on from the Maggie story?
The Maggie story was really useful for a first season because it allowed us to give the characters an immediate back story and it gave us a good hook to start out with. It kind of justified why the narrative was starting now. In the first episode of the series, when Josh gets dumped he’s really plunged into the dating world for the very first time. We established that he was in a relationship [for] years and years so his experiences in season one are very much his first adult dating experiences. This season, we needed to move on. We decided to try to come up with a new narrative which would hopefully push Josh and Mike and all the other characters forward and have them looking to the future instead of the past.
The season premiere kind of feels like a “Mike episode.” Are we going to see more independent storyline that focus on Mike this season? What kind of growth are we going to see?
We’ll see multiple episodes this year that are from perspectives other than Josh’s. Obviously, Josh remains the main character and most of the episodes will focus on him. But, yeah, there will be the lead on multiple episodes with protagonists other than Josh. I think this year, we’ve worked hard to three-dimensionalize our characters and also the relationships with one another.
We tried to make the show more narratively propulsive and more dramatic and to really put our characters relationships to the test. I think with Mike, in particular, viewers will be surprised to see that a lot of his chauvinistic attitude is something of a pose, and that deep down, he’s as vulnerable as the rest of us. We’ll eventually even get to see what he’s like in a relationship.
We see some of Josh’s insecurities within the context of a relationship this season. Is that something you want to further explore either with Mike or with Josh? Or with Liz?
Yeah, we’ll see all of them in relationships that are mismatched and misguided. I think the biggest relationship in this season is really the relationships between the characters. It’s very much a season about friendship and family as much as it is about dating. We’ll see a lot of episodes that really center around Josh’s relationship with his sister and Josh’s relationship with his mother. Josh’s relationship with his best friends. It’s still a dating show, so all of our plots and narratives center around the pursuit of romantic love, but I would say that this season is mainly focused on our characters and their relationships with one another.
Is there a chance that we’re going to see the social circle expand a little? Are we going to see new people in Josh’s life? New friends in Josh’s life?
We definitely are expanding the roles. We learn a lot more about Josh’s office life and his career ambitions. We have an entire episode that focuses on Josh’s career ambitions. Which is obviously new terrain for us and it kind of tangentially relates […] but it’s ultimately very much about his work life as opposed to his love life. Those two things will ultimately be connected. But yeah, we’ve tried hard to shade in the lines a little more this season and learn more about Josh’s family and about his working ambitions. I think it’s ultimately going to make our dating stories richer, because they’ll have more of an emotional context for what’s happening.
Can you grow these characters and still pull off these big episodes that the show was known for last season? The destination wedding in Hell, the Cupid episode, the end of the world, etc.
Yeah, yeah. The goal is to make the show more emotionally grounded and more character driven while keeping it as absurdist and premise driven and unpredictable as possible. I know those two agendas seem like they contradict each other, but we tried our best to pull it off. But like you said, it is a weird show. It incorporates horror, science fiction, Greco-Roman mythology — sometimes all in the same episode. So constructing an episode is a little bit like building a tower out of different shaped blocks. It can be a bit of a challenge, but when you pull it off you’re hopefully left with something that’s a little bit new.
We were determined to evolve the show and flesh out our characters and then three dimensionalize the world, but we don’t want to sacrifice the inherent absurdism and humor that we love. I would say it’s a little more fleshed out but equally insane.
Last season you had some great guest stars. Bill Hader was fantastic as Hitler. Fred Armisen, who makes an appearance in season two. Any familiar faces or characters from last season that we might see again? Is Tanaka the penis monster coming back?
Unfortunately, I think Tanaka has kind of made his point.
I don’t think he’ll be back. But you can fully expect a lot of supernatural creatures and some monsters. Paul Jones returns as our resident creature master and he’s designed all sorts of insanity for us from the grim reaper of baldness to a terrifying undead lumberjack.We’re real excited with all the things he’s done.
As far as guest stars, the biggest one is the super talented Rosa Salazar who joins us for a six-episode arc. I’m really excited to introduce her into the world of the show. She enters the show at the end of episode five and she’s sort of like a bomb that blows all the relationships apart.
We’re also really lucky to have 60% of the Kids in the Hall in this season. Mark McKinney, of course, coming back as Tom, but we also have appearances by Scott Thompson and Kevin McDonald in different episodes. So we’re just Dave Foley and Bruce McCulloch away from 100% Kids in the Hall. Which has always been the goal.
Man Seeking Woman premieres on FXX on Wednesday January 6 at 10:30 p.m.