Photo: Michael Gibson/FXX
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In addition to all the great sight gags and fantastical sequences, Man Seeking Woman has a whole lot of heart. It’s always been there, even when we were all being encouraged to laugh at (and with) the sadsack Josh of the first two seasons. We both despaired of and pulled for him as he navigated the romantic wreckage, relieved to witness someone like us experience things that had happened to us, but from the safe distance that TV provides. That underlying sweetness has grown more obvious in the third season, the humor a bit warmer (though not necessarily gentler) now that we have two halves instead of one lonely whole. As I noted last week, MSW has become more of a relationship comedy—or rather, it’s grown into one. But that shouldn’t disappoint or put off any fans of its more outlandish aspects, which remain firmly in place.

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Similarly, if you’ve always been rooting for Josh, having Lucy carry the story for full episodes at a time hasn’t exactly reversed the polarity—this really isn’t Woman Seeking Man (though that episode’s coming). This is more Man And Woman, which I am thoroughly enjoying. We (and Josh) have had enough non-starters and flameouts; it’s time for something else. I do share in any fear that this might leave MSW’s future dubious, but—and maybe it’s just the spirit of this “holiday” week—I’m prepared to see this thing through.

That’s not quite the attitude that Josh has about popping the big question(s) in “Bagel,” but he’s also ready to take that next big step. The episode’s opening isn’t going for the sweetness I referred to above; it instead kicks off with Josh and Mike having the anal sex talk, followed by Josh asking for Lucy’s…um…well, asking Lucy’s dad for his permission to ask Lucy to have anal sex. It’s the kind of extrapolation we’ve seen before, with the kind of Seinfeld-ian parsing of nuance. As Liz notes, you should generally just ask the woman you want to have anal sex with if she’d like to have anal sex with you, but in Lucy’s case—she has old-fashioned parents—Josh does need to observe that old formality.

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This exchange didn’t do a ton for me, beyond Liz’s “mazel” upon learning her younger brother was diversifying in the bedroom, and Josh looking to eHow.com for guidance in this situation. But even though I wasn’t cracking up over Lucy’s mom’s excitement over butt stuff, I recognized how it played into Josh’s subsequent proposal. “Bagel” breaks down everything that someone is asking for when they ask someone to marry them, as well as what will be expected of them if the answer is yes.

The fact that he initially treats the proposal as almost an afterthought is typical Josh stuff; despite all the surreal segues, he’s not a big dreamer. He’s actually quite grounded, so he thinks proposing to Lucy over her favorite breakfast is a nice way to do it. And he’s right—it is “nice.” But the convention geeks who criticize the gesture are also right that he should put a little more thought into it. At least, Lucy would certainly appreciate it.

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To be fair to Josh, he hasn’t had much experience with this. But if he could take the time to Google anal sex and hold a meeting with Liz and Mike to talk about it, he could probably arrange for a nice dinner. Then again, things unravel faster once Josh actively begins plotting the best way to propose. He’s so nervous that he can’t even keep it a surprise, though Lucy’s crackerjack detective skills and deerstalker would have made short work of any ruse. She quickly deduces he’s going to propose, but she’s left in the dark waiting for it to actually happen.

Lucy’s expectations are upended at the same time as ours—almost everything else in this relationship has gone smoothly, so this next phase, although a significant departure, shouldn’t be so difficult to reach. And yet, even in the perfect setting (the site of their first date), Josh can’t bring himself to ask. That’s because MSW understands the seriousness of the situation, which it conveys by having both Josh and Lucy freak out. Josh spits out the proposal almost resentfully, and Lucy accepts it with a similar lack of graciousness. But before they really spiral out, they take a moment to consider just what it is they’d be asking of each other. When they realize it’s another trip to the sunglass store they like, or to their favorite bagel place, or an afternoon movie, they both know this is something they want. And that’s when we know we’re in for this, too.

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Stray observations

  • “Bagel” was written by MSW season three story editor Stefani Robinson, and directed by Ryan Case, who also helmed the wonderful “Popcorn.” Ladies, kudos.
  • That’s Shameless and The Intern’s Zack Pearlman as the con geek who gives Josh a hard time.
  • And that’s John “He’ll always be Dr. Phlox to me” Billingsley as a useless Watson.
  • Speaking of which, why would he put Lucy’s insult on his résumé?
  • Also, that’s Hurry’s “When I’m With You” playing us out at the end.
  • Because I’m apparently 10 years old, I did search eHow for its anal sex entry. There is none, so here’s a screenshot of the fake one from the episode.

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