‘Man Seeking Woman’ Takes Exciting New Direction
Owen Lane | Thursday, March 9, 2017
The dating scene is a tired subject. Countless television shows have attempted to perfectly capture the multi-headed beast that is finding love. The central concept behind Simon Rich’s “Man Seeking Woman” is disarmingly simple. The show transforms our relationships’ incidental anxiety, conflict and heartbreak into the melodramatic film and television tropes that we know all too well. The surreal conceit of the show is clever and fitting, especially considering the sheer volume of middling and predictable content that arrives on streaming services every month. “Man Seeking Woman” reminds us that venturing out into the world in an attempt to find a person to whom you will expose your most raw and intimate moments often feels like an absurd endeavor.
“Man Seeking Woman” is incredibly comfortable in its surrealism. It is not like “Scrubs,” which is a realistic show that occasionally dipped into the surreal for inventive comedic material. “Man Seeking Woman” places its viewers in an even balance between the mundanely familiar and the cinematically familiar. The show’s main character Josh (Jay Baruchel) could be talking with his friend Mike (played by the hilarious Eric André) on the phone about how his new girlfriend is obsessed with cleaning his filthy apartment, only to unlock his door and discover her dissolving all of his beloved possessions in a yellow vat of acid a la “Breaking Bad.”
Season three has gone in a fairly unexpected direction for this show. Josh seemed hopeless after a run of fruitless relationships last season. The season began with a clever introduction of the new love interest, Lucy (Katie Findlay), in a surreal sequence that mirrored Josh’s dejection in an episode from the previous season. Amazingly, Josh and Lucy’s relationship is an immediate success. Suddenly, “Man Seeking Woman” has moved from being a show about dating to being a show about actual love. Vicariously, the fights between Josh and Lucy cut deeper and their moments of romantic triumph are even more rewarding.
Despite significant changes in its dynamic, this show’s best attribute is still its incredible ability to pivot while lampooning tropes. “Man Seeking Woman” is the scripted comedy equivalent of a car chase scene. An episode about revealing your significant other’s embarrassing secrets to their friend shifts from spoofing the Chilean mining accident disaster film, to lampooning the Edward Snowden leaks, and ends at a medieval gallows. The show brilliantly parodies “Where the Wild Things Are” in episode about Lucy’s struggle with leaning on her parents for financial support. The show shifts from the contemporary lives of Chicago twenty-somethings to outlandish referential parody several times each episode, yet does it so tactfully that the next turn is never predictable.
One of the show’s finest progressions in its run has been its willingness to experiment with the role of the main character. Baruchel was squarely the star of the first season, with some hilarious accompaniment from André. In the show’s second season, the writers produced a handful of episodes from the perspectives of female characters. Britt Lower does a tremendous job as Josh’s grounded lawyer sister, Liz. The risk of basing an episode around the straight-laced female character on a show called “Man Seeking Woman” certainly paid off, even if the episode was about having an affair with Santa Claus. Season three has doubled down on the efforts to include female perspective in the show, with the season’s episodes split between the perspectives of Josh and Lucy.
In its best moments, “Man Seeking Woman” manages to be about love and so much more. Often, the show is concerned with the terrifying prospect of growing up and having a relatively conventional life. Spoken or unspoken, the age of 30 looms large to these characters. The previous three episodes have dealt with Josh and Lucy’s engagement and their family and friends’ reactions. The characters’ marriage brings up interesting questions about the future of the show, but for now just enjoy what will surely be a hilarious, impressive season finale.