With Man Seeking Woman, FX's FXX channel has entered into fresh territory. This is not the umpteenth dating show featuring pretty young men and women making sex jokes that are daring only if you haven't been exposed to umpteen other shows that think the two funniest words in the language right now are "kale" and "vagina."
No, Man Seeking Woman, which this week slipped into the spot behind It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (and how about that show's crazily weird, beer-fueled airline flight?), is something different — low-key rebellious. It stars Jay Baruchel as Josh, just an ordinary guy looking for love. But show creator Simon Rich gives Josh's romance-quest a twist: He takes literally all those mean-spirited metaphors people invent about dating. Thus, in the premiere episode, you can imagine an offhand remark some jerk might utter, like, "Boy, I was set up with a real troll last night" — well, writer Rich gave Josh and us a real troll, one who grunted and rooted around in garbage before visiting a restaurant with Josh.
Man Seeking Woman is taking a risk, turning what could be brief sketch ideas into half-hour sitcom plots. Rich comes from a sketch background — he was a staff writer for Saturday Night Live, and MSW is co-produced by SNL guru Lorne Michaels. But in the three episodes I've seen, the literalization of Josh's subconscious fears, hopes, and dreams works pretty well. The show is rarely laugh-out-loud funny, but it's always engrossing and smart — no surprise, I guess, since Rich has also written humor pieces for The New Yorker.
I particularly like an upcoming episode, in which Josh decides to commit to having a steady girlfriend, and the instant he does, he's approached by a bevy of gorgeous space aliens who offer to have sex with him, and then he's whisked off in prison garb on a bus that takes him to a harrowing land — suburbia — where a guard (played by Eric Andre, who also plays Josh's best friend) warns him and other dating dudes about the horror that await them should they ever marry.
Which may sound mean-spirited, but it's not. MSW is sympathetic toward, even enthusiastically supportive of, the women in Josh's imaginative world. Even though the premiere rendered one as a troll, she was a smart, feisty troll, one that made Josh question his taste in women, which was the whole point. Indeed, Rich and his collaborators, who also include long-time Simpsons producer Ian Maxtone-Graham, aren't into the humiliation or angst of women or men. They want Josh to sort out his feelings and become happy. That he probably will never do so is — well, that's comedy, folks.
Did you watch the Man Seeking Woman premiere? What did you think?
Man Seeking Woman airs Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m. on FXX.