Three episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
There is a TV show currently airing that once had a Japanese penis monster crash a dinner party. I just want to get that out of the way before we get started here, because the first thing that needs to be understood about Man Seeking Woman is that it’s a show about love. It’s a candor-filled take on dating, relationships, best friends and the weird, awkward, surreal spirals your life can go down the older you get on the outside, if maybe not so much on the inside. Oh and there are aliens.
We’ll get to that, but first the basics: Josh (Jay Baruchel) is a late-in-his-game 28-year-old who attempts to navigate the surreal waters of the dating world with bestie Mike (Eric André) and parent-favorite sis Liz (Britt Lower) at his side. His failures are arduous and deep, but he’s at least finally over season 1 girlfriend Maggie (Maya Erskine, gone from the title cards and show as a whole). What’s more, he has a new beau in his life before we even see him again this year. To combat this threat to their friendship, Mike hires a gang of attorneys to oversee a meeting between he and Josh, discussing the specifics of when the two can hang out, eat wings from their favorite local restaurant, and play video games.
As the stooped-over, wiry 28-year-old temp, Baruchel remains enjoyably unsurprising. He does and says and reacts exactly the way you think he will, but that’s just the first pink feather in this show’s cap. Of course Josh would be predictable: he’s a cipher, totally at the whim of his lizard brain and essentially completely devoid of free will. He is, as series creator Simon Rich writes him, the collective consciousness of every straight 28-year-old guy on the planet: the center of his own video game magazine filled, chicken wings for dinner, woman-obsessed universe.
His universe just so happens to be as weird as he is, hence the aliens. Man Seeking Woman tackles the awkwardness of modern dating with a machine gun full of surrealism. The first three episodes of season 2 sprint from talking condoms, to real-life men as a giant sex toys, to an actual car as a potential love interest for Josh (“I need someone safe, and reliable,” he bemoans to Liz). But it’s the surprising relevance each of these cartoonish tangents has to a real world situation that repeatedly rings true.
The best example yet in season 2 crops up in the premiere, when Josh invites himself to a weekend cabin escape with his new girlfriend and her friends. As the day progresses, he feels repeatedly left out of the group’s in-jokes, references and history, including a lumberjack they accidentally ran over in high school, buried in the woods and discovered was resurrected by the Devil. People are offed, and Josh sits in solitude focused on a puzzle, attempting to wrangle with the idea that maybe beginning a new relationship doesn’t mean completely ending the ones you have with your own friends.
There’s a slow build to each of these bizarre twists that lends Man Seeking Woman an uncommon intelligence. Like the best episodes of The Simpsons, Rich and his writers construct narratives that sound ridiculous when culled into bite-sized buzzwords (a guy gives a TED talk on masturbation, befriends Death, and becomes a rogue cop) but feel naturally evolving in the moment. That talking condom is your sexual stage fright, that mid-sized sedan is the person you think you should settle for when you haven’t found the one – the show turns its metaphors into the surprise reveal and the best thing about it all is that they never once feel ham-fisted or forced, even as the writers begin burrowing into more topical subjects.
Of course, it’s hard to truly invest in any of this due to its fleeting nature. At the beginning of every episode, Josh and his pals essentially reset back to the beginning: new girlfriend, new problem, not many lessons learned or remembered. Man Seeking Woman, in its DNA, is a live-action cartoon. As such, it’s hard to berate the show for not following the path of traditional television in one area (continuity) when I praise it for deconstructing it everywhere else.
The writers burrow so effectively into the absurdist humor of every sequence that most worrying thoughts about the show’s structure dissipate quickly. The humor here is less dependent on clever wordplay and more on situational awareness, like Josh’s growing lethargy to that horror cabin scenario, or his therapist’s blunt explanation regarding an organization built to support everyone who isn’t attracted to him. This prevents the stories from ever getting bogged down in the logistics of this weird alternate universe (or Josh’s head) and keeps each episode chugging along at a breakneck clip, so that even if one gag falls flat, it won’t be a long wait for the next stinger.
Besides that continuity hurdle, there are a few nitpicks to be had with the FXX series – including a noticeable lack of Britt Lower in the opening episodes of the season – but it’s hard for me to get past one simple, tiny thought regarding Man Seeking Woman: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like it. As a scooped-out-of-the-brain representation of the neuroses and humiliation of dating in your twenties, the show feels refreshing and scathing on a near-epic scale. That’s thanks mostly to the bashful playfulness that the writers use to test the borders of Josh’s loony sandbox, not to mention the tricky effectiveness of the hero’s repetitive hamartia.
Josh won’t learn from his mistakes, can’t find the light at the end of the tunnel, and is stuck in a Groundhog’s Day of disastrous dates and “grown up” dinner parties in a misguided attempt at trying to be mature without actually having to do all the legwork. How many shows can you rattle off right now that function in the same wheelhouse? I got nearly a half dozen. Now, in the same category, how many shows can you name in which its lead penetrates the gas canister of a mid-sized 1998 Saturn sedan? They might not all stick, but in terms of pure ingenuity, Man Seeking Woman has more ideas in its cold opens than most shows have their entire run.
Refreshing in its erudite lunacy and somehow relatable amid all of the flights of fancy, Man Seeking Woman may be the best televised representation of millennial, twenty-something anguish so far this decade.