In the US: Wednesdays, 10:30pm, FXX
Being newly single after a long-term relationship is wretched. After months or years being with someone, suddenly you’re all by yourself again. Soon, you’re discovering that the world’s moved on without you – everyone decent is now in a relationship and how people date and are expected to act on dates has changed since you were last ‘on the market’. Imagine both the misery… and the potential for comedy.
Indeed, for most TV networks, just that scenario would be sufficient. But FX and new spin-off channel FXX are rapidly shaping up to be the producers of some of the most innovative programming on US TV, even compared to premium cable channels such as HBO and Showtime. While it’s best if we overlook Marriage, You’re The Worst was the uncontested, very edgy winner of last year’s romcom wars and Tyrant, The Strain, The Bridge (US) and The Americans have all at least tried to do something different and equally edgy in their own ways.
Now we have Man Seeking Woman, developed by showrunner Simon Rich from his collection of short stories The Last Girlfriend on Earth. The show has little to do with the book itself, being a continuous storyline about what happens when twentysomething nerd Josh Greenberg (Jay Baruchel of She’s Out of My League fame) splits up from his girlfriend Maggie (Maya Erskine from Amazon’s Betas) and re-enters the dating scene, although at times it does feel like a collection of sketches thrust together rather than a thematically cohesive whole.
What makes Man Seeking Woman different is that rather than being a series of simple encounters between Baruchel and various women, the show instead highlights how wretched each scenario is using the power of fantasy made real. Worried that your blind date is going to turn out to be less than pulchritudinous? Guess what. She’s a troll. Really – she’s come from the forests of Sweden and eats out of dumpsters. Think that your ex’s new boyfriend is likely to be the worst human alive? Turns out he’s Adolf Hitler who’s faked his own death. What’s he going to make of the fact you’re Jewish, I wonder.
Each of these is played entirely seriously, with no one blinking an eyelid at their improbability – and the fact that Baruchel always ends up having to apologise for his bad behaviour (“I’m not the one you have to apologise to.” “I’m sorry, Hitler” “I don’t think he can hear you.”). Much of the joy of the show is the bizarre directions it goes in that quite often precisely sum up a feeling not previously verbalised but universally recognisable.
But in common with You’re The Worst, it’s slightly male gaze – as the title suggests, this is man seeking woman, not woman seeking man, and the idea, for example, that a woman travelling late on a Friday night on the Chicago L by herself would be delighted to have a guy obviously following her and then would give him her business card is very much an extreme male fantasy. But to a certain extent the show knows it – wait till you see how that encounter plays out – and sometimes turns its gaze on Baruchel, pointing out that while his date may be a troll, it’s not like he goes to the gym much, is it?
The show also tries to get by too much purely on the strengths of its fantasy scenarios, with Baruchel’s character not especially likeable and his best friend (Eric André from Don’t Trust The B—-) the kind of guy who calls women ‘gash’. You’re not really invested in the characters, so much as seeing what the next fantasy sketch is.
Man Seeking Woman works best as a sort of longer form, romcom version of Portlandia, rather than as a sitcom per se. But it’s intermittently very funny, incisive and imaginative, so definitely worth a try.