One of TV’s best comedies has remained, even into its third season, one of TV’s best kept secrets. Sequestered away on FX’s sub-channel FXX, Man Seeking Woman (based on the short stories of Simon Rich, who also created the series) tells the story of a Josh Greenberg (Jay Baruchel), a kind of Everyman living and dating in Chicago. What makes the series stand out, though, is how it takes ordinary relationship moments and uses surrealist storytelling to not just satirize them, but to bring emotional truths into sharp focus.
The show has evolved with each season, beginning as just a series of one-off dates for Josh before focusing in on a single crush throughout Season 2 (which also caused tension with his best friend, played by Eric André). In Season 3, however, Man Seeking Woman gives Josh a stable, serious relationship with Lucy (Katie Findlay), who finally seems like the girl meant for him, and vice versa. Through this, the show morphs again to focus on jokes surrounding relationships and being in a couple, and does so with the same amount of wit, insight, and bizarre twists as it did in prior seasons.
In the premiere episode, “Futon,” Josh and Lucy face off against her hostile roommates, who resent Josh spending so much time at their apartment. Typically for this show, it turns into a nationwide conversation about the deportation of “illegal boyfriends,” with newscasters interviewing the roommates on their feelings about undocumented significant others. In a much later episode, “Pad Thai,” the show’s cold open is a quasi remake of The Sandlot, where Lucy and Josh are now the “scary house” as a couple who never goes outside. When attempting to retrieve the gang’s baseball, a local neighborhood kid screams as he slips on a pile of takeout menus and falls into a huge stack of Amazon Prime boxes. “All they ever do is binge-watch television shows!” a friend had warned him ominously.
The gag works on a number of levels, but is ultimately (as is the rest of the episode) about falling into a comfort rut when you’re in a relationship for awhile. The show’s balance of the bizarre and the mundane may be at its sharpest yet this season, but it also hasn’t lost its bite. When Mike (André) finds out that Josh is thinking about having anal sex with Lucy, the scene plays out like they’re discussing a marriage proposal. “Have you asked her father yet?” Mike asks, as the joke is played out to its most extreme conclusions. And yet, the episode takes a turn back towards the normal when actually discussing marriage, and ends up being one of the show’s most beautiful commentaries while never becoming saccharine.
That balance of tone isn’t done better by any other show, but it is perhaps matched by the exceptional British import Fleabag, which is like watching the “Woman Seeking Man” episode inversions in this series. The shows are two of the best, as they explore modern dating and relationships in a way that’s not just hysterical, but occasionally rawly emotional. And is there any other way than to settle a dispute about being a parental sympathizer than with a McCarthy-era Congressional deposition? I think not.
Rating: ★★★★★ Excellent
Man Seeking Woman Season 3 premieres Wednesday, January 4th on FXX