Imagine joining your girlfriend on a cabin trip with her closest high school friends. You don’t know any of them, and you quickly feel left out: they make jokes you don’t get, they ignore you when you try to fit in. They mention a summer “everything changed, and we were forever linked.” You ask what that means, and your girlfriend casually explains: “There was this one time after prom when we were all driving to this very cabin, and things got a little out of hand and we accidentally ran over a lumberjack. We buried him in the woods, but then he was resurrected by the devil. I guess you kinda had to be there.”
That’s what played out last night at 10:30 p.m., when the FXX network quietly debuted the second season of a show called Man Seeking Woman, a dark indie comedy starring Jay Baruchel—the jittery Ottawa-born, Montreal-raised Jewish actor probably best known for voicing Hiccup in the How to Train Your Dragon series.
The show is easily the most creative thing on television today. It’s a world where miniscule fears are blown into surreal proportions: when that zombie lumberjack breaks down a door to find Baruchel struggling over a puzzle alone, the horror music cuts and the creature asks, confused, “Who’re you?”
Not to beat around the bush or anything, but if you like early Woody Allen (and you’re reading the Canadian Jewish News, so don’t pretend you don’t), you should honestly watch this show. It expertly blends the modern surrealist aesthetic touted by Louie or Last Man on Earth with absurd, bite-sized sketch concepts from late-night TV. (Plus it’s shot in Toronto, and who doesn’t love watching the Queen streetcar roll across what’s meant to be a downtown Chicago avenue?)
It’s a shame last year’s debut season garnered only 200,000 viewers per episode; despite the series’ critical acclaim, this season may only be hanging on by a thread. Some audiences might be turned off by the show’s flippancy—it’s really just a hodgepodge of high-concept gags with no real consequence. (While the zombie-jack murders some of those cabin kids—including, fun fact, CJN profile subject Jonathan Keltz—all we hear are background screams: “There’s so much blood!”)
The show’s basic plot follows Baruchel’s character, a mopey guy named Josh Greenberg, trying to get over a nasty breakup he suffered in the series premiere. But everything that can go wrong does: after his first post-breakup blind date is with an actual troll in an ill-fitting hot-pink tube dress, he later discovers his ex’s next boyfriend is literally Hitler, 124 years old and stuck in a wheelchair.
The show’s brainchild is Simon Rich, a 30-year-old comedic wunderkind who graduated from Harvard into a job as the youngest-ever writer for Saturday Night Live. “Being Jewish influences me a lot when I’m writing comedy,” Rich told the Jewish Chronicle in 2010. “The God of the Old Testament is the original comic character. He’s irrational, he’s reckless, he has unlimited power. The stakes are so high and he can just do whatever he wants. People are powerless.”
A lot of Rich’s comedy apparently comes from this feeling of hopelessness, this sense of abject desperation in the face of a world you cannot control. In that way, Man Seeking Woman is strikingly Biblical—it’s The Book of Job, if Job had to go on a blind date with an actual troll.
The show’s brilliance comes from unlocking our deepest fears—being left out, breaking up, rejection—and showing how big they feel, despite how small we know we are. That contradiction is the key, and it’s in this proud tradition of helpless Jewish comedians—not just the universal pessimism of Allen, but the high-concept weirdness of Charlie Kaufman, the comic absurdity of Mel Brooks and the everyday observations of Seinfeld and David—that Man Seeking Woman places Rich firmly in the canon of fine Jewish comedy.