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Spring 2015 Review: Man Seeking Woman

19 Jan

Man Seeking Woman

Man Seeking Woman is legitimately different, which is no small feat. This is most notably due to its seriously surrealist touch which is welcome and lacking on live action television outside of Adult Swim. I’ll speak to that surrealist touch a little bit later on. Whether the show is enjoyable or not, however, depends on which side of a thin line Jay Baruchel and his character Josh, walk.

Baruchel has strengths as an actor, but chameleon isn’t one of them; he plays a version of the same character in nearly every role, and while there’s certainly significant differences in his characters, there are enough similarities to make it difficult not to somewhat conflate Man Seeking Women’s Josh with every Baruchel character. That’s not necessarily a problem of course, and many successful, talented actors face similar restraints (not everyone can be Gary Oldman) but it does mean enjoyment of the character rests as much on one’s opinion of Baruchel in general as on his character.

As for that character, well, Man Seeking Woman begins with Baruchel’s Josh saying his goodbyes to his ex-long term girlfriend after completing what was clearly a painful breakup. He’s devastated, crushed, and chooses to remain outside of the world, hiding away in his apartment, until he’s prodded by his best friend Mike (Eric Andre), doing like any good TV friend would, encouraging Josh to get back out there and dating.

Josh, glass half-full, is a charmingly awkward, warm-hearted everyman, who deals with unusual, befuddling situations with relative restraint, especially considering their utter absurdity. Glass half empty, he can come off as something of a whiny emo schmuck, a sad sack, who can’t or is clearly uninterested in moving on despite the clear message from his ex. Those are the extreme angles of his character, and most people will view him somewhere in the middle. On which side of that middle, however, one views him, may determine whether one enjoys the show.

The other calling card of Man Seeking Woman is its sheer surrealism, a quality rarely seen in such a pivotal role in live action television. Early in the episode, Josh goes on a blind date set up by his has-it-totally-together sister. She insists she’s set him up with a smart, successful woman, willing to go out him, an unemployed loser. It turns the blind date is a hideous, literally dumpster diving troll, green and scaly. Within the Man Seeking Woman universe, everyone treats this as normal, except for Josh, who tries to be gentlemanly and conversational to prove that he’s not shallow, but eventually can’t take any more and gets into a physical altercation with the troll, ending the date. Everyone else in the restaurant, his sister included, views him as the villain.

Later in the episode, Josh goes to a party hosted by his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend, an elderly Adolph Hitler. The situation is similar as the date; everyone else at the party, his friend Mike included, acts as if this is normal. Hitler’s reformed, he’s cool, he’s chill; hating jews is so seven decades ago. Josh is the only alarmed guest, and he initially acts as if this as insane and bizarre as we know it to be, before somewhat deciding it’s better to fit in.

Lastly, on the way back home, Josh talks to a random girl on the train platform and follows her the wrong way onto the train for the chance to talk to her further. Although their conversation is fairly stunted and awkward, he gets her number before she leaves, to great fanfare. As he gets off the train and walks towards home, fans are cheering him on, asking for autographs, and the president calls him with congratulations.

Was it perhaps a tad overboard to be getting calls from the president for merely getting a girl’s number on the train? Probably, but although I wasn’t sure where I stood before that moment, I found I was in the at least slightly pro-Barcuhel camp when I rooted for his success on that subway, and was pleased when he pulled it off. Surrealism is hard to use properly and requires some level of acceptance by the characters that what obviously can’t make sense in the real world is, for whatever reason, real. The few surreal live shows on Adult Swim use surrealism for absurd, silly humor, while Man Seeking Woman uses surrealism in an attempt to get at humorous, but extremely human, non-surreal situations and emotions. Man Seeking Woman may not hit the ball out of the park, but it delivers a genuinely interesting idea.

Will I watch it again? I’m going to give it another try. I seem to like the main character well enough, and it’s definitely a little bit different than anything on TV, which is to its credit. Good ideas should be rewarded with some leeway, even if they end up not panning out.