“God, I hate the sound of children laughing,” Julie (Julie Klausner) says while sitting in the audience of a Broadway production of Annie. That line defines Difficult People, Hulu’s funny new series created by Klausner, starring her and Billy Eichner as self-absorbed, generally terrible people. They’re the type who can sit in a Broadway show made for children and complain that children are in attendance. Billy and Julie are a unit and everything else is an affront to their delicate sensibilities. Playing unsuccessful versions of themselves—Eichner’s character is a waiter/performer, while Klausner’s recaps Bravo shows—they view the world through a lens of bemused disgust. How come everyone else is more famous than they are? How come no one else is as excellent as they are? How come no one else gets it?
In the third episode, “Pledge Week,” Billy goes on a date with “a participator” (played by John Benjamin Hickey), the type of guy whose hand shoots up when a performer asks for a volunteer. Billy and Julie are, of course, appalled by such behavior. If he’s not a performer, why would he deserve the limelight? How embarrassing for him. Difficult People, executive produced by Amy Poehler, hinges entirely on the shticks of both Eichner and Klausner. Enjoy their brand of barbed, pop-culture inflected humor and Difficult People will land. Don’t get it, and it’s not worth the time. The show is much like their respective Twitter feeds come to life.
Hulu is the perfect place for a comedy like Difficult People. Its world is not expansive enough to be a traditional sitcom, although that may be because Difficult People is on Hulu, not despite it. That smallness can hinder the Difficult People at times, making episodes feel like a series of vignettes, rather than a cohesive story, but that is perhaps a growing pain of the new series that can likely be fixed. There are other characters that populate Billy and Julie’s world: Julie dates PBS host Arthur (James Urbaniak) and deals with her oppressively self-involved mother Marilyn, played by an always delightful Andrea Martin. Billy works at a restaurant along with a trio of co-workers (Cole Escola, Gabourey Sidibe, and Derrick Baskin) who love or hate him to varying degrees. Famous faces also drop by—including Kate McKinnon, Martin Short, and Nate Corddry—sometimes integrated into the plot smoothly, other times more like an inserted celebrity cameo. These all make up an outer life for Julie and Billy but they do very little with it. Difficult People is a show that lives or dies based on the comedic personalities of Eichner and Klausner.
Eichner for one benefits quite a bit from being able to play a character. Klausner’s fame has always been based around who she is; her first book, I Don’t Care About Your Band, was a memoir whose Will Ferrell- and Adam McKay-produced, Lizzy Caplan-starring HBO adaptation never made it to series. She’s consistently been her, but she doesn’t feel as natural on-screen as Eichner does, opting to play “Julie” big. Eichner’s fame grew because of his Billy On The Street shtick: It’s hilarious, but it doesn’t lend itself to a fully fleshed out human being that goes beyond the wonderful but one-note Craig Middlebrooks on Parks And Recreation. On Difficult People, Eichner handles himself exceptionally well playing someone whose main characteristic is not yelling.
Billy and Julie are self-involved, but they’re also self-aware. They generally understand that they are not good people. After Billy is “banned from Bravo” for a stupid joke he made about Chelsea Handler in 2011, he vows to be nicer. (Julie points out that this is perhaps not the best time: “Chrissy Teigen just weighed in on the Greek election,” she says. “She doesn’t have the astute political mind of a Naya Rivera,” Billy replies without thinking.) They also consistently fail. They’re awful, but they’re the butt of the jokes, ruining the audition or bombing at comedy night. They may be difficult, but they’re also inherently likable.