Man Seeking Woman‘s comic sensibility is best summed up as “no, literally” humor. The blind date our hero Josh (Jay Baruchel) meets up with in hopes of a rebound turns out to be an ugly troll — no, literally. Sending a text to a potential partner requires all the strategic thinking of a war room — no, literally. That’s the basic premise of this FXX comedy, premiering Wednesday night at 10:30, from Simon Rich: the mundane trials of everyday dating, inflated with surrealism until they feel just as life-or-death to the audience as they do to Josh.
Josh is precisely the kind of Apatovian beta male Baruchel made his name portraying. A 27-year-old who’s still on his parents’ Discover card, Josh begins the series reeling from the end of his six-year relationship. Suddenly, Josh is forced to start his love life from scratch, all while haunted by the ghost of his ex — no, literally! (There’s an exorcism scene at the end of the second episode that’s among the series’ funniest, not to mention a neat reversal of This Is the End, where it’s Baruchel performing the exorcism on Jonah Hill.)
Josh’s would-be guru in all things single male is Mike (Eric André), a staunch opponent of commitment and avid proponent of dick pics. At the opposite extreme is Liz (Britt Lower), Josh’s higher-achieving older sister and the Type-A angel on his shoulder. Mike and Liz have exactly one thing in common: a mutual desire to see Josh move on from Maggie (Maya Erskine), who’s moved on, herself, to Adolf Hitler (no — you get it).
Based on Rich’s short story collection The Last Girlfriend on Earth, Man Seeking Woman borrows heavily from established cable comedies. Like Girls, it’s a comedy centered on a haphazard 20-something that traffics more in cringes than laughs. Like Broad City, it uses an absurdist sketch-show-that’s-not-really-a-sketch-show structure to explore life in the big city (though this time it’s Chicago, not New York). And like Louie, it’s a show about a single, straight, white dude inflected with the melancholy that comes with the burden of modern masculinity. In fact, the “no, literally” aesthetic is basically the Chelsea Peretti helicopter getaway from Louie‘s first season, expanded to an entire series.
Because of all these close cousins, no one’s going to accuse Man Seeking Woman of reinventing the wheel. But after this fall’s slew of failed network rom-sitcoms, from the dearly departed Selfie to the swiftly dispatched Manhattan Love Story, it does offer a more promising take on the TV romantic comedy, or at least a TV comedy that’s centered on romance. Man Seeking Woman is exclusively centered on Josh’s love life; he’s a temp, but we never see him inside an office, and even his relationship with his parents is left untouched beyond a few blandly supportive Skypes and texts. Unlike Selfie (or A to Z, or Married), though, Man Seeking Woman doesn’t anchor itself to a single relationship, a model that works for FX’s You’re the Worst but proves limiting for seemingly every other show that attempts it.
Instead, Man Seeking Woman gives Rich, an SNL alum and prolific humorist, ample space to explore Josh’s everyday struggles, which prove more than enough to sustain a full show once they’re beefed up with crazy. Occasionally, however, Rich doesn’t need to break from reality to hit the upper-middle-class millennial nail on the head. My biggest laugh of the three episodes offered for screening didn’t come from the troll date, or Colonel Tigh from Battlestar Galactica screaming “TEXT JK!!!!” in the war room. Instead, it came from a small but devastatingly accurate detail of Josh’s date preparation: a copy of Infinite Jest, obviously untouched but strategically placed at his bedside. No “no, literally” necessary.