Editor’s Note: Welcome to our TV Rewind column! The Paste writers are diving into the streaming catalogue to discuss some of our favorite classic series as well as great shows we’re watching for the first time. Come relive your TV past with us, or discover what should be your next binge watch below:
My roommate and I used to have a Saturday morning ritual: We’d make homemade avocado toast (yes, we’re Millennials. Please don’t come for us) and sit down to watch an episode of TV. Our brunch programming would vacillate between ongoing basic cable series (that our cord cutting selves were catching up on) and new shows that we wanted to try out. It was a Hulu recommendation that led us to discover the gem that is Man Seeking Woman, a canceled-too-early FX comedy starring Jay Baruchel and Eric André that ran for 3 seasons from 2015 to 2017.
On the surface, it’s a half-hour romantic comedy that follows Baruchel’s Josh Greenberg, a down-on-his-luck guy in Chicago dealing with a recent breakup with a longtime girlfriend, and chronicles his life as he gets back on the dating scene. But it quickly reveals itself to be absurdist in nature; because it’s from the minds of ex-SNL writer Simon Rich and legendary SNL creator Lorne Michaels, Josh’s dating adventures often take surreal twists that feel detached from our current reality while still grounding it in real emotions.
The pilot is a great indicator as to whether Man Seeking Woman’s brand of humor is for you. When we meet Josh—directly post-dumping—he drags himself home with a literal rain cloud over his head and an occasional dead fish plopping down. The camera pulls back to reveal the forecast has rain clouds above only Josh’s head, signaling that this is his plight and no one else’s. Later in the episode, he finally decides to get back out on the dating scene and leans on his sister to set him up. Arriving at the restaurant, Josh finds out his date is with a literal troll who is rummaging in the trash before joining him inside. And when he finally feels up to meeting his ex’s new boyfriend, the proudly Jewish Josh is horrified to find out that she’s shacked up with none other than 126-year old Adolf Hitler.
I used the word “literal” a lot in that paragraph because that’s one of the keys to Man Seeking Woman’s comedy. It takes turns of phrase, taboos, and situationally absurd elements and imagines a world where that is an unquestioned reality. Comedy is meant to push boundaries and heighten everyday circumstances, and Man Seeking Woman does that and more while also managing to explore singledom, dating, and relationships with heart; the absurdity of the situations never detract from the universal experiences that fuel the show.
Baruchel makes an endearingly fresh face for this type of a show. His awkward energy fits the character’s anxieties about dating, and his optimism for true love is contagious. It’s important that a show like this remains uncynical in its worldview, and Baruchel is committed to the wide-eyed attitude toward finding a soulmate. Meanwhile Eric André, who plays Josh’s best friend Mike and who is always an extreme comedic performer, finally has a showcase where his oddities feel at home in the chaos. As a duo, they play off of each other’s eccentricities, doubling down on expressing their comfort zones and depicting a true friendship.
Man Seeking Woman faced some early criticisms for uneven storytelling and only focusing on the trials and tribulations of a cishet white male (valid complaints—let’s not forget the title), but over the course of its series run, it found ways to broaden the scope. The show cycles through every stage of relationships, from serendipitously meeting someone on the train (one of the best bits is set in a control room as everyone from Mike to uniformed Army members agonize over what Josh should text a girl he just met), to the early days of a relationship, to a full-blown serious partnership. And as the stories began evolving, Man Seeking Woman gave POV space and time to characters on the margin, like Josh’s sister and his new love interests, ensuring they weren’t just props in Josh’s story.
Despite all of this, Rich described the show as “the most conventional show on television” during his press tour for the third season. He’s referencing the structure of the show (each episode follows three acts with distinct character arcs and goals), but in a way he’s also referencing its big heart. Man Seeking Woman reaches for happiness for all of its characters and is ultimately a traditional story about navigating the choppy waters of dating; it’s just that it expresses itself through an unconventional worldview. And to that end, who doesn’t want to spend some time in a world where Barack Obama would personally call you up to congratulate you on small dating victories?
Man Seeking Woman a serialized joke machine with unique SNL-style bits layered on top of one another to precarious heights. Not all of them land, but when looking at the sum of its parts, Man Seeking Woman was one of the most ambitious and hilarious shows to grace the small screen. Even though it’s been off the air for some time now, the jokes still feel fresh enough to watch again and again.
Watch on Hulu
Radhika Menon is a pop culture-obsessed writer and filmmaker living in New York City. Her work has appeared in NY Post’s Decider, Teen Vogue, and will be featured in Brown Girl Magazine‘s first ever print anthology. She is a proud alumna of the University of Michigan and thinks she’s funny on Twitter.
For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.