Man Seeking Woman Season 1 Episode 1 Review: “Lizard”

Man Seeking Woman 1.01

After the infamous, failed “10-90” experiment, FX (and by proxy, its sister channel FXX) has taken a different approach to its comedy programming, erasing any attempt at multi-cam sitcoms, and pushing slightly away from the surrealistic bent that defined the prior era, when half-hour shows like Louie, Wilfred, and the short-lived 2008 series Testees debuted.  Since last summer, FX has tried a different approach, taking a number of typical rom-com premises, and turning them into a solid pair of small-scale comedies: the impressive You’re the Worstand the solid, slightly uneven Married.

Man Seeking Woman is a show that finds itself oddly in the middle, attempting the visual panache of a show like Louie (in its own way) with a script that follows You’re the Worst in trying to capture the familiar beats of dating life from a new angle. Based on a series of short stories from Simon Rich, Man Seeking Woman attempts to mix the absurd visual symbolism of art house films with simplistic rom-com plot structures – and for the most part, at least in “Lizard”, it works – though if the show wants to grow into something meaningful, it has some work to do.

The promise in the show’s premise is obvious: Jay Baruchel is perfectly cast in the (again, very familiar) role of awkward guy trying to find love, though “Lizard” doesn’t give him a lot of room to show much range in his performance in its attempt to tell a story of “weird stuff happens to regular guy.” It makes him relatable but only does so in a superficial sense, a connection based on the fact 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 slightly charming, unpolished mix of the absurd and the emotional.

As a pilot, “Lizard” isn’t really able to harness either: 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 metaphor 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.

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.

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.

[Photo via FXX]

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