There are many shows about dating and relationships, but there is no show like Man Seeking Woman. Last year, the FXX comedy (from Simon Rich, author of The Last Girlfriend on Earth) differentiated itself from other series about finding love and partnership by debuting with an episode featuring its star, Jay Baruchel, on a date with a troll named Gorbachaka. It was witty, unexpected, and most of all sincere, making the series refreshingly unique.
Season 2 continues in much the same vein, taking ordinary situations revolving around dating (not hanging out with friends as much, the fear of rejection, desiring someone who already has the perfect partner), and infuses them with surreal, innovative substitutions to what would otherwise be a cliche scenario. In the new season’s premiere, “Wings,” Josh (Baruchel) invites himself on a cabin weekend trip with his girlfriend (Sarah Gadon) and her college friends. Feeling alienated from their inside jokes, Josh withdraws and his girlfriend confronts him. It sounds straight-forward, but she also happens to be in the middle of a bloody battle against a lumberjack the group accidentally ran over a decade before, who was then “resurrected by Satan” and continues to haunt them. Josh tries to get her to help him put together a puzzle, sighing and confessing, “It’s just that … you and your friends have this secret history together, with the nicknames, and the undead lumberjack…”
In every episode, Man Seeking Woman starts with a familiar premise before turning into a visual stream-of-consciousness, though it never loses sight of its original story. When Josh, after being confronted by the Grim Reaper (not harkening death, but rather, male pattern baldness), decides to settle for a “safe and reliable” relationship, he starts dating a late ‘90s Saturn. “Face it, mom — a mid-sized sedan is the best I’m ever going to do.” It’s not just a funny, one-off reference. The show follows through, examining the relationship fully, and letting it play out like it normally would. Except, of course, for the fact that the girlfriend is literally a car, and in this world, no one finds that odd.
Though Eric Andre (as Josh’s best friend) and Britt Lower (as his sister) are both great supporting characters (though Lower, who was a stand-out last season, has been given less to do this year so far), it’s Baruchel who makes the series exceptional. He’s earnest and sweet as Josh, helping to sell his hopeful, insecure Everyman status. In “Feature,” Josh’s girlfriend of the episode discovers she’s “not Joshua-sexual,” and a couple’s therapist finds a book to share with him on the subject. “People have not been attracted to you for thousands of years!” She explains, adding, “Plato called it ‘the cornerstone of democracy.’” It’s the kind of riff that — while over-the-top — is also a hilariously accurate visual representation of one’s fears (and sometimes hopes and desires) that become, on this show, real and tactile.
Like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, with which it shares a timeslot, Man Seeking Woman often relishes in the vulgar. And yet, here it registers more as just plain speak. Maybe it’s because the show enshrouds these elements in a way that tempers their caustic nature, like when Josh gives a TED Talk on masturbation, which is gloriously precise in its examples. The show is also extremely canny, throwing out well-placed references to TV series like Game of Thrones and Mr. Robot, and using familiar setups to help make its argument. That’s the beautiful thing about how Man Seeking Woman operates. It doesn’t conform its comedy or its message to fit familiar frameworks (like a buddy-cop show in “Scythe”), but conforms them (along with corporeal forms of historical figures, practical effects, and other unexpected additions) to itself, to excellent effect.
Most of all, Man Seeking Woman Season 2 has proven (so far) that it still is finding plenty of ways to keep its stories and perspectives fresh and unique as it explores the relatable nature of Josh’s dating follies. And that’s a good thing, because no matter how extreme or supernatural or weird it becomes, it never drifts away from being sharply perceptive, terrifically fun, and surprisingly real.
Rating: ★★★★★ Excellent
Man Seeking Woman returns to FXX Wednesday, January 6th.