In the wake of the notorious “10-90” experiment, FX and its sister channel FXX have shifted their approach to comedy programming. They’ve abandoned multi-cam sitcoms and moved slightly away from the surrealistic slant that characterized earlier shows like Louie, Wilfred, and the short-lived 2008 series Testees. Since last summer, FX has been experimenting with a different strategy, taking standard rom-com premises and transforming them into a couple of small-scale comedies: the remarkable You’re the Worst, and the decent, slightly uneven Married.
Man Seeking Woman occupies a peculiar middle ground, attempting to combine the visual flair of a show like Louie with a script that, like You’re the Worst, aims to capture the familiar rhythms of dating life from a fresh perspective. Based on a series of short stories by Simon Rich, Man Seeking Woman strives to blend the absurd visual symbolism of art house films with simplistic rom-com plot structures. For the most part, it succeeds in the pilot episode “Lizard,” but the show still has some work to do if it wants to evolve into something truly meaningful.
Awkward Guy Seeks Love: A Familiar Premise with Potential
The show’s premise holds promise: Jay Baruchel is perfectly cast as the awkward guy trying to find love, a role we’ve seen many times before. However, “Lizard” doesn’t give him much room to showcase his acting range as it tries to tell a story of “weird stuff happens to regular guy.” This makes him relatable, but only on a superficial level, a connection based on the fact that we watched him get dumped in the opening scene (the same goes for Eric Andre, who is a player because he uses Tinder). That makes it easy to be at least slightly emotionally invested in the protagonist; what follows is a somewhat charming, unpolished mix of the absurd and the emotional.
As a pilot, “Lizard” struggles to harness either of these elements: its visual oddities lack subtlety, like the literal troll Josh gets set up on a date with midway through the episode, or the fall of rain and dead birds wherever he seems to be walking. There are times when this lack of subtlety pays dividends; however, even Maggie’s new boyfriend Adolph Hitler isn’t as ingenious as a metaphor as it initially appears to be, as the episode carries on with the joke scene after scene, including a closing tag that seemed more fitting for a gag reel on Bad Grandpa than it did a coda to the show’s first episode.
Visual Gags and Unspoken Thoughts: A Promising Direction
I’m interested to see Jonathon Krisel’s direction in future episodes (he’s directing episodes two and five, and possibly more); there’s certainly promise in the show’s delivery of visual gags and how it allows unspoken parts of Josh’s mental approach to life and life to come to life. But these moments need to feel unique rather than tropes injected into situations for the sake of reality-bending farce, and that’s where “Lizard” falls a bit short, in connecting these images to Josh’s life in ways that add depth to the character, not just to present his internal conflicts in the most simplistic fashion, be it visually or narratively.
Man Seeking Woman: A Show with Potential
There’s a lot of potential for Man Seeking Woman, and with a show trying to draw in an audience with such a distinct, intentionally unsettling visual style, it may take a few episodes for the show to find its footing and be able to dig into its characters. What “Lizard” demonstrates is that while the show has a grip on its tone and thoughts, it needs to work on the intricacies of delivery: all the symbolic/ironic imagery in the world can do nothing without a strong foundation of character underneath it. BoJack Horseman understood this, and it’s what made “Downer Ending” one of the best half-hours of TV in 2014; if Man Seeking Woman can grow into its own version of that literally challenging, emotionally satisfying kind of television, FXX could have a sneaky breakout comedy on its hands
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