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Man Seeking Woman: “Gavel”

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After five episodes struggling to get over Maggie and get back out into the dating world, Josh finally finds a good thing in “Gavel” with Kayla, his first official girlfriend of the series. The opening sequence works well, showing Josh and Kayla’s budding relationship and establishing an easy rapport and cute dynamic between the two. It’s nice to see what Josh looks like in a relationship, however briefly, and as the episode centers on whether Josh will cheat, it’s important to have his current relationship established this efficiently and effectively.

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With Josh, Man Seeking Woman has slowly been deconstructing the TV Nice Guy. The glacial pace of this exploration may at times be trying and the series is rightly more concerned with getting laughs than Josh’s larger journey, but this episode’s focus on fidelity is a promising continuation of the subtext of the past few episodes: Josh has been seeking “Woman,” he’s not actually concerned with who fills that role, likely because he’s not interested in any of the women he dates as individuals. He certainly doesn’t respect them. With Kayla, Josh is finally dating someone he actually likes (though she remains utterly unexplored or developed onscreen). It’s a step in the right direction, but if the season’s arc will be Josh realizing that he’s not actually been a nice guy, just the passive, often judgmental character type so frequently presented as “nice” on TV, he still has a ways to go.

Josh is emphatic that he’s “not the kind of guy who cheats.” He’s only mildly tempted by the sex aliens who come to ravage him and remains unfazed by Mike’s dire warning of the dangers of the suburbs. As soon as Maggie knocks on his door, however, his relationship with Kayla is doomed. Actually, the writing’s on the wall before Maggie even shows up—as soon as Josh makes his fidelity about his ego and not about how important Kayla is to him, their relationship is doomed.

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In general, Man Seeking Woman’s best moments have been its most heightened: Maggie dating Hitler, Col. Tigh demanding Josh text “jk,” Josh’s mom torturing him for information on his love life. “Gavel” inverts this trend, building the series’ most entertaining and successful sequence in several episodes with the most straightforward of the episode’s three flights of fancy, Josh’s repeated trips to Relationship Court. The opening’s trio of sex aliens and their inability to resist the newly unavailable Josh is a lot of fun and an excellent take on the common wisdom that women are drawn to men in committed relationships. By far the least interesting of the episode’s extended sequences is Mike’s tough love trip into the suburbs. While the fear of aging into obsolescence in the suburbs is a common one for commitment-phobic city dwellers, it’s one plenty of other shows have explored. Neither the anger-suppressing, henpecked husband nor the controlling suburban housewife are particularly fresh characters and “Gavel” does nothing new with them here.

This is more than made up for, however, by Josh’s time in Relationship Court. Marc Evan Jackson is fantastic as the judge, bringing his trademark dry delivery to each line; his reading of “jibber-jabber” alone would be enough to sell the sequence. Each time Josh returns to court, he’s on thinner and thinner ice, and he knows it. The progression builds nicely and as with the Center for Important Emergencies in “Traib,” Relationship Court and the judge in particular externalizes a conversation many viewers will have had with themselves. From the script to the direction and performances to the costuming and other production elements, the sequence nails its tone and sustains the entire second half of the episode, one of the few fantasy sequences in the series to last exactly the right length.

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After succumbing to Maggie’s charms, Josh does at least call Kayla and break things off—though seemingly less out of a sense of responsibility and more because he’s hoping to not have to tell Maggie about her—and his excitement while cooking breakfast is almost adorable. It’s quite possible Josh wouldn’t have cheated on Kayla had he known Maggie wouldn’t take him back. It’s too late, though, and Josh can only summon up a half-hearted plea to Kayla to take him back; gone is the Jimmy Stewart/Anatomy Of A Murder-inspired advocate from earlier. Each of the past three episodes have ended with Josh theoretically learning a lesson via a breakup: he should have talked to Maude instead of avoiding her, he should have let go of his insecurities with Whitney, and he apparently is the kind of guy who cheats, at least on Kayla. This structure has helped the season pick up a bit of steam, but it’s hard to imagine the show finding a way to keep such a clear-cut format interesting. The most important thing, though, is the comedy, and as long as Man Seeking Woman keeps the laughs coming as consistently as they do here, it can take its time with Josh.

Stray observations:

  • A big thank you to Vikram Murthi for covering for me last week!
  • Maggie, and now Kayla—looks like Josh has a thing for almond milk drinkers.
  • It’s neat to have Carnivale return as one of Josh’s defining elements of his and Maggie’s bond, and one that’s utterly meaningless to her. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to catch up with the series. Can any fans provide context in the comments for the clip shown (assuming it is indeed from the show)?
  • Jackson has too many great throwaway moments to cite them all, but particular favorites are his disappointment in Susan and his entrapment of Josh with “two-horned” and “Asian,” followed by, “Careful…”
  • Jackson may get the memorable lines in Relationship Court, but Jay Baruchel is very good throughout. He’s been a consistent and reliable straight man all season and hopefully at some point, he’ll get a few moments as memorable as the ones he’s supported thus far.
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