Jay Baruchel (FXX)

Man Seeking Woman closes out its second, and potentially final, season with Josh still unlucky in love, but having gained a healthier perspective on himself and the dating scene. Rather than send Josh off into the sunset with Rosa, “Balloon” brings season two full circle by focusing on the relationship that drove the season premiere, Josh’s friendship with Mike, and this symmetry gives the episode and the season a satisfying sense of closure. Whereas the season one finale saw Josh’s attempts to recapture a doomed relationship lead to the enslavement of the human race—Hail Trackanon!—this time, Josh has matured enough to use his words, leading “Balloon” to end on an anti-climax, rather than the all-out battle of “Scepter.” Should this be the final episode of the show, “Balloon” goes out well, with a callback to what remains a highlight of the series, the text summit of “Traib,” and a clear line drawn between where Josh was in the pilot—alone, miserable, and being pelted with rain and falling birds—and where he is now: confident, together, and surrounded by his three best friends, who have always been there, all series long.

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The highlight of the episode is without a doubt the battle between Ultra Josh and Ultra Mike. The concept is strong and as is so often the case, the Man Seeking Woman crew nails the details of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers-style showdown. The design of both robots is great, as are their consoles, and the transition effects as Josh and Mike fly into the air and assume their robot forms are deliciously cheesy. The director and editor give just enough time to the panicked reactions of the townspeople as they prepare for the looming battle and keeping the camera at Ultra Josh and Ultra Mike’s height while Rosa responds to their fighting over her is a nice touch. More than that, though, the sequence is grounded in emotional truth, as long-buried tensions boil over. The scene could have been even more effective had Josh’s insecurities towards Mike been established earlier in the run of the show, but Josh’s frustration at their dynamic feels authentic and Jay Baruchel and Eric André sell the moment.

The other conceits of the episode—Mike’s balloon trip, Scott Thompson’s infallible prophet Tiresias, and James Adomian’s conspiracy theorist—lack the depth of the robot-fueled final set piece. It’s fun to see Mike duded up in a tux (another distinct contrast to the season one finale) and the balloon scenes efficiently set up Josh’s read of Mike’s headspace, making the premise work, on the whole. Similarly effective is Thompson as Tiresias, who is used sparingly, there only to confirm the wisdom of Liz’s advice and throw out a few jokes. Less successful is the conspiracy theorist. Adomian is fine in the role, but the concept, there only to push forward the plot, needs more nuance to justify the time given it. Had the episode been more neutral on whether Rosa was actually flirting with Josh, this could have been an interesting thread, contextualizing Josh’s desire to believe Rosa is sending him signs. Instead, the episode agrees with Adomian’s rantings, making this one of Man Seeking Woman’s more straightforward, and less interesting, sequences.

While “Balloon” is a solid, confident send-off for the series and the decision to center the finale on Josh and Mike, rather than Josh and Rosa, is a welcome surprise, it’s hard not to feel underwhelmed by how the episode concludes the Rosa arc. Following one romantic interest for Josh over several episodes has been a refreshing change of pace for the show, but having five episodes of build-up culminate in an all-too-typically Josh misread of Rosa’s attentions is disappointing. Rosa Salazar has been a strong addition as Rosa and having a second installment of “Woman Seeking Man” (“Eel”) this season was a definite treat. However, few of the conceits in the Rosa-centered episodes match the zany comedic heights or thematic depths of previous episodes’ set pieces. Mike’s fear of commitment as martial arts training in “Eel” is creative and allows neat visuals, but it lacks nuance and plays into tropes of women using jealousy (unintentionally, in Rosa’s case) to control commitment-phobic men, and Josh’s “Cool With It” jazz ensemble in “Fuse” is a great idea, but one that comes back at least one too many times.

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The cast and crew of Man Seeking Woman have shown they’re more than capable of delivering on their material, each actor and production department rising to the occasion when they’re given more to do, but since the territory the series explores is so well-trod, it takes particularly creative and specific writing to let the series as a whole stand out from the crowd of twenty-something-led romantic comedies. When the writers do hit upon an under-explored idea or a new take on a common trope, however, the series shines in a way few others of its ilk do. “Honey” is a highlight of season two, with guest star Fred Armisen providing a delightful counterpoint as Jesus to Bill Hader’s Hitler, as Josh goes from seeing his romantic rivals as monsters that the women he’s interested in must be saved from, in the pilot, to paragons he understands them not wanting to leave. Josh has come a long way in two seasons, no longer attempting to control the women he’s interested in. Though that instinct remains, by late season two he starts accepting their choices, instead taking a page from Tom’s book, as Mark McKinney so entertainingly depicts in “Honey,” changing his behavior and waiting for another opportunity with Rosa, rather than bemoaning and belittling her decisions. It’s a lesson Josh must keep learning, as he does in “Cactus” thanks to the intervention of Kevin McDonald’s Chainsaw, but it’s one the series keeps returning to, taking an initially subtly sexist “nice guy” and slowly making him more aware and thoughtful.

It’s hard to argue that the twenty-something dating scene is an under-represented topic on television, but even at its most conventional, Man Seeking Woman remains interested in ideas, in picking at gender norms and addressing the thought processes and instincts that feed them. It’s this curiosity and creativity that has me keeping my fingers crossed that the under-seen Man Seeking Woman will somehow escape cancelation yet again and return for a third season. Should the series end here, however, “Balloon” is a sweet and fun final note for the show, and a fond farewell from creator Simon Rich and the rest of the Man Seeking Woman crew.

Stray observations

  • Between Mark McKinney, Kevin McDonald, and Scott Thompson, Man Seeking Woman has brought on three fifths of The Kids In The Hall. I feel like we need a season three just so Rich and company can work in Bruce McCulloch and Dave Foley.
  • Speaking of McKinney, I missed him and Robin Duke significantly in the back half of the season. At least they both got set pieces of their own, the tent revival in “Card” and the hibernation in “Honey,” but it would have been nice to see them more in season two.
  • The cast member least utilized, however, remains Eric AndrĂ©. Mike is more explored in season two than season one, but still doesn’t get enough to do. Should a third season somehow happen, perhaps we’ll finally get a Mike-centric episode.
  • The series’ gender politics have gotten more explicit as the show has gone on and a fabulous example of this is Carrie-Anne Moss as fixer Joan Dillon in “Eel.” Her discussion of the epithet rankings of “bitch” and “crazy” is great; it would’ve been fantastic to get even more loaded terminology thrown into the mix.
  • Speaking of terminology, I was a little bummed when Rosa said she’s not attracted to Josh in the finale, rather than coming out as Not-Joshero. I still want that coffee table book!
  • I can’t let my coverage of Man Seeking Woman at The A.V. Club end without giving some love to the fantastic opening credit sequence (both original recipe and “Woman Seeking Man”) and the score, which contributes enormously to the show’s stylistic range and energy. Well done, all involved!

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