Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Man Seeking Woman tears Josh down to build him up

Illustration for article titled Man Seeking Woman  tears Josh down to build him up
TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.

It was hard to imagine Man Seeking Woman topping Trackanon for high concept ridiculousness, but “Scythe” does just that, setting Josh up with his worst partner yet, a white 1998 Saturn (say what you will about Gorbachaka, at least she had personality). This episode may not have the laughs of “Feather” or the depth of “Wings,” but what it lacks in these departments it makes up for in commitment. With the exception of the opening—more on this in the strays—each segment of “Scythe” commits fully to its concept, however awkward or uncomfortable. Josh’s anxiety over his thinning hair prompts the action of the whole episode and his turn as a loose cannon cop, so inured to rejection he becomes unstoppable, is the entertaining highlight of the episode, but it’s the middle section, Josh’s relationship with a seemingly safe, dependable 1998 Saturn, that is most interesting.

While there are a few gags in the central segment, on the whole, it abandons humor and puts the audience in Mike, Liz, and Josh’s parents’ shoes, awkward bystanders to an unfortunate decision by Josh. There’s little attempt to give the Saturn a personality or any individuality. There isn’t any gradation in the car’s honks—its only means of communication—and rather than cut away from Josh and the Saturn’s romantic rendezvous, leaving at least something to the imagination, the camera pans to a mirror and the music fades out, leaving the viewer with the uncomfortable reality of the situation and the pained grunts that accompany it. This is an unapologetically pathetic moment for Josh and the show embracing this, taking him to such a strange, sad place, is laudable.

Usually on romance-driven shows, the safe and reliable partner a protagonist considers settling for is at worst a bit boring, though still gorgeous. Here, Josh settles for a bland, personality-free inanimate object none of his friends or family like, a literal weight holding him back as he walks through the park. It’s a much better argument against settling than, say, Noel in season one of Felicity. As with Claire’s Not-Josherosexuality in “Feather,” having the relationship Josh settles for be with a car allows it to fall apart not because of something one of them does—though the Saturn’s four-way doesn’t help—but because they never should have been together in the first place. It ensures the focus remains on Josh for choosing this relationship, rather than his partner for being underwhelming. It also changes up the dynamic and keeps Josh from becoming a perennial jerk or victim when his relationships fail every week, a pitfall season one approached, but managed to avoid.

The creativity on display in “Scythe” is impressive, but the most encouraging element of the episode is Josh’s growing self-awareness and the series’ inclusion of other perspectives, however briefly. Man Seeking Woman finds universality through specificity, but at times the lens of its protagonist, a 28-year-old white man, can be limiting. Taking a moment here and there to pierce Josh’s self-involvement goes a long way toward inviting those outside his experience to come along for the ride. This comes up in each main segment: With Death, Josh ponders how being black would shape his life and twice later, Liz pops up to offer a female perspective. Britt Lower’s expression as Josh bemoans his newly discovered ticking clock is fantastic and the utter confusion from Josh, Mike, and the Lieutenant when Liz suggests not hitting on the attractive Kara is delightful. Each of these asides acknowledges Josh’s privilege and lets the audience know the writers are in on the joke. This kind of tweak to the voice of the show—also present, albeit more subtly, in the previous two episodes—is a welcome improvement over the already strong approach to the first season. The variety present in the first three episodes of season two, with “Wings” exploring Mike and Josh’s relationship more fully than ever before, “Feather” going all-in on humor, and “Scythe” embracing the sad and weird corners of romantic life, shows just how much potential remains within the conceit of the show.

Stray observations

  • The opening bit of the episode, Josh giving a TED talk as an expert on masturbation, has a fantastic premise, but is sorely underdeveloped. Just as Josh starts to get going, the segment ends. It feels like the sequence was edited down for time, and if so, that’s a shame. The premise is great, but it needs more space to breathe; without it, the joke becomes one note and fails to really land. It’s disappointing to see such a strong setup wasted.
  • However, the closing tag is great, a funny note to end on that also confirms Josh’s newfound confidence.
  • I love Mike’s pensive thoughts on his relationship with Lucky Charms as he and Josh are sitting at the bar, and that the show doesn’t hold viewers’ hands with it.
  • Josh’s attempts to negotiate with the Grim Reaper are fun, as is the Reaper’s patience with Josh. Jay Baruchel gets the line delivery of the episode with, “I suppose they have it bad in other ways, like oppression.” Robin Duke’s delivery of, “or boat…” is a strong second, though.
  • As in the first season, the pop culture references in Man Seeking Woman season two are on point. First Josh and Kelly marathon Mr. Robot—they clearly have excellent taste—then Josh and Claire geek out over Super Mario Bros. 2, and this episode, Josh recalls a long rant on the plot holes in Prometheus. So far I haven’t spotted Infinite Jest anywhere, but given its omnipresence last season, maybe it’ll show up on a bookshelf somewhere this season.