Man Seeking Woman, the hybrid sitcom and sketch comedy from former Saturday Night Live writer Simon Rich, returned for its third season on FXX last week, and if you haven’t caught this show, it’s worth bingeing the first two seasons to bask in its weird, sharply funny glow.
Man Seeking Woman is basically a sketch show hidden inside a romantic comedy. It follows Josh Greenberg (Jay Baruchel) when he gets dumped by his longtime girlfriend and must re-enter the dating world. His best friend Mike (Eric Andre), sister Liz (Britt Lower), and parents (Robin Duke and Mark McKinney) are there to alternately play wingman, encourage, and judge along the way. The show’s basic premise has certainly been done quite a bit, but no one else does it like this. Here are five reasons Man Seeking Woman is worth catching up with on Hulu.
Man Seeking Woman manages to push its ordinary premise into a different kind of show entirely by taking those comparisons we all make about dating (“My ex’s new boyfriend is terrible—Hitler terrible”) and taking them literally. Like many sitcoms, each episode centers around a theme, but unlike other sitcoms, each act is a sketch premise. Sure, there’s a storyline, but it advances slowly and is mostly beside the point. Instead, it takes the experiences and anxieties everyone has had been through and heightens them by raising the stakes to a much more ridiculous level.
The writers of Man Seeking Woman start with a strong clash of contexts allowing the show to constantly reinvent itself. It takes standard premises and twists them in ridiculous ways—when it looks at what happens when you think you’re being fun and flirty at a party but you’re actually killing everyone with boredom, characters literally die on the screen. When a best friend gets a new girlfriend and disappears, it pushes that idea until it parallels union negotiations at a corporate employer. The writing takes stock comedy concepts and stretches them to their illogical extreme.
Though the story follows lead Jay Baruchel, Man Seeking Woman gives its whole ensemble a chance to play absurd, usually giving Josh the straight man role of anchoring the show’s reality. And boy, do they deliver. Particularly enjoyable is Josh’s mom, who not only tortures him Saw-style for information on his sister, but later takes a turn as his biggest evangelist, giving sermons in a sort of Church of Josh on his special greatness. But furthermore, as the show has gone on, Josh’s romantic interests have become fully fledged, nuanced characters with their own feelings and agendas, rather than just a male romantic fantasy. And the actresses who play them get to play funny and absurd rather than demure and charming.
Once a season, Man Seeking Woman breaks from following Josh and his romantic pursuits in favor of his sister, Liz. And it doesn’t back off, continuing to explore common relationship problems and their attendant themes. Like when Liz has an affair with a famous married man. Sure that sounds like a drama, but the married man is Santa Claus and the Christmas jokes are Next Level.
Despite the show’s title, Man Seeking Woman isn’t entirely about romantic love. It’s become more of an exploration of the impact all kinds of relationships have on adulthood, particularly as a person transitions from their charming, party hearty 20s to their more responsible, settled 30s. And in a lot of instances, those relationships are characterized by anxieties. Like that no one is attracted to us, that we’ll never find the right person or will have to settle, or that our best friend could date our crush. But what truly makes the show a delight is the ridiculous juxtapositions it offers while bringing us metaphors about connection and disconnection. We might experience Josh’s pain as he and his girlfriend break up on a camping trip, but it’s with the joy of watching it take place in the middle of an I Know What You Did Last Summer-style horror movie with murders taking place all around them. It’s bizarre and weird and that’s what makes it a delight.
Erica Lies is a writer and comedian in Austin, Texas. Her work has appeared in Splitsider, Bitch, Rookie Mag, and The Hairpin.