Man Seeking Woman’s biggest asset is its absurdist world because it stems from the emotional reality of its protagonist. Josh is an awkward, insecure guy who sees any standard situation as a larger-than-life struggle, whether it’s texting a girl he just met or talking to his overbearing mother. The fluidity of the series’ reality has stood out since the pilot and it provides an opportunity to heighten standard romantic comedy tropes. It’s how this week’s episode “Sizzurp” can revolve around Josh’s dissatisfaction with a perceived ideal and also contain a Japanese penis monster.
However, since Man Seeking Woman’s fantastical elements are primarily used as a comedic device, it’s also the series’ biggest liability. There’s a tendency for Man Seeking Woman to rely too heavily on the fantasy sequences to convey run-of-the-mill emotional issues, often allowing sight gags and conceptual humor to do the heavy lifting. When they’re deployed well, these sequences are series highlights, but when they’re not, they weigh episodes down.
“Sizzurp” is a good example of an episode with a solid premise that doesn’t quite succeed because of clumsy execution. After Cupid’s intervention for alcohol and codeine dependency at Mount Olympus, he decides to turn over a new leaf by blessing a loser with love instead of just “D.J.’s and club promoters and guys who say they’re producers but when you look them up they haven’t produced anything.” The loser in question is our Josh and the woman who falls for him is Whitney (Minka Kelly, a.k.a. Lyla Garrity of Friday Night Lights). Josh initially gets plenty of joy from his new relationship, but it mostly takes the form of rubbing his success in the face of every single person, animal, or object that’s ever wronged him. His pleasure eventually curdles when he becomes jealous of the attention Whitney receives, but it’s ultimately a moot point because Josh doesn’t really like her all that much in the first place.
The episode’s sound instincts carry it pretty far. “Sizzurp” takes aim at Josh’s own insecurities and illustrates that he’s really his own worst enemy. It’s not the world trying to keep him from finding success in love and in life, in fact the world just gave him an accidental blessing, but rather it’s his own inhibitions that are the real stumbling block. The scenes between Josh and Liz convey this idea nicely. It’s Liz who gets Josh to realize that he’s only with Whitney because she makes him feel better about himself, and that that’s not a good reason to be with anyone. It’s Josh’s responsibility to find his own confidence so that he can find his Lands’ End lady.
The main problem with “Sizzurp” is its choice to communicate Josh’s conflicting feelings through his interaction with Tanaka, a friend of Whitney’s who’s in town to visit…and that happens to be a Japanese penis monster. Obviously, Tanaka functions as an archetypal sitcom figure, the newcomer who makes our hero jealous, but Man Seeking Woman just relies on the mere idea of a purple Octopus-esque monster with penises as tentacles to drive the situation’s humor. It’s weird and funny at first, but the joke wears its welcome out way too quickly, and it eventually becomes a gross, unfunny button that Man Seeking Woman can push at will. It’s especially dispiriting because Josh’s conflicted feelings bubbling to the surface hinges on Tanaka’s appearance, and because it’s so tonally different from the rest of the episode, it renders the whole thing more than a little bit uneven.
In the end, “Sizzurp” tries a bit too hard to spice up a standard sitcom situation and it saps the life out of the episode’s emotional reality. It’s a routine problem for freshman sitcoms, but what’s frustrating about Man Seeking Woman is that it has a voice but can’t seem to find a consistent rhythm. It’s as if the series is stumbling around in the dark trying to find it even though it’s right there. All it has to do is turn on the light.
- I’m subbing in for Kate this week because she’s out of town. Hope I didn’t muck anything while she’s gone!
- The Mount Olympus scenes are pretty funny mostly because they take the idea to its quick logical conclusion without belaboring the point. Also, Jorma Taccone is always a game performer.
- The tightly edited sequence of Josh parading Whitney around was my favorite, if just for the image of Josh’s doctor burning his medical degree because he judged him on his lack of sexual activity.
- How many times has this series used Infinite Jest as a punchline? I haven’t been keeping track.
- I also enjoyed Josh’s interaction with the liquor store clerk. “Tycoon? You Greek tycoon?”
- “Have any of you listened to my mixtape? Be for real.”