Photo: Michael Gibson/FXX

With “Popcorn,” Man Seeking Woman throws its role reversal into full throttle, and turns out not only the best episode of the season (so far), but one of the high marks of the series overall. I am here for all of it: The Maurice Sendak homage, the McCarthyism riff (I know), Josh’s dad jokes, and Lucy’s seeming goth phase.

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The anxieties and hurdles we were accustomed to watching Josh clear have now been transplanted to his better half. And, as it turns out, she doesn’t have any better idea of what she’s doing than he does. The shift does more than just highlight their similarities, though; after meeting Lucy’s parents, I get the feeling that she’s more upper middle-class than Josh is. That’s nothing to hold against Lucy, obviously, but it does speak to something Jay Baruchel recently said about how income disparity would manifest as a source of relationship tension this season. For all the absurdity, this show tackles a lot of realistic drama.

Photo: Michael Gibson/FXX Network

Lucy appears to be Josh’s perfect woman (shout-out to the commenter who pointed out that the “Mike-ro” brew joke would have sealed the deal), but we’ve already seen some of the cracks in the relationship. Early on, she steamrolled over him in making their home together, and now that she’s entering yet another new phase in her life—paid graphic artist/designer—there’s another freak-out. Or is Lucy just off her game because it’s time to introduce Josh to her parents?

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Despite her repeat warnings about “passive-aggressive activity,” the first meeting goes smoothly. Lucy’s parents like Josh almost as much as Patti likes Lucy (but really, does anyone throw themselves so fully into anything the way Patti does?), and he even digs her dad’s unrepentant dad jokes. As it turns out, Lucy’s concerns aren’t about whether Josh will pass muster, but if she will. When we first see her parents, they’re making cutting little remarks about her life choices. The drama mounts when Josh and Lucy head to her folks’ place for the weekend, where she finds all manner of evidence of their disappointment. There’s the missing “weird phase” photo, as well as the surreptitious addition of a financial how-to guide to her shelf of graphic novels.

All these signs point to Lucy not measuring up in her parents’ eyes, but she’s the only one who can see them. Josh isn’t attuned to this kind of snide parenting; Patti’s always been much more demonstrative of her disapproval. So it’s Lucy’s turn to convene a tribunal against Josh, who’s not the “Lucy loyalist” he pretends to be. He stands before the House of Anti-Lucy Activities, accused of parental sympathizing.

Katie Findlay’s “Popcorn” performance(s) should remove any lingering doubts about the addition of Lucy or change in focus. She’s alternately gamine and profane while anchoring every scene. When she tells the committee (and Josh, presumably) to suck her dick after the tide turns against her, the change in her voice makes it more than just a funny bit. Lucy is pissed, but she’s also heartbroken. She warned Josh that this is exactly the kind of thing her parents do—gang up on her. What’s worse is that, this time, Josh was with them.

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So Lucy regresses, journeying into the attic and Lucyland, where she sees her imaginary friends again for the first time in years. This Where The Wild Things Are sequence is one of my favorites so far. It’s also this show in a nutshell—that is, the warping of a familiar tableau or marker. Imaginary friends or fantasy lands are a part of many people’s childhoods. But MSW populates Lucy’s alternate world with one oversexed monster, his anxiety-ridden cohort, and their financially-savvy female friend. The outlandishness is always grounded, but not before it has a chance to deliver something unforgettable.

Just like in the horror movies the episode riffs on, Lucy is saved by the morning’s light (and a monster-size Xanax). There’s a happy ending, but it doesn’t magically wave away Lucy’s problems with her parents, who reveal their true selves to Josh before they part ways. The relationship is intact—stronger than ever, even. It doesn’t take much for Lucy to realize that her reality trumps her fantasy now. It mirrors the cohesion of the third season; whatever bawdiness might have been sacrificed for the more serialized storytelling has been worth the cost.

Stray observations

  • Dear readers: I am so sorry that this didn’t publish properly this week. I also apologize for not checking my Disqus account more frequently to see your queries about the status of said review.
  • Lucy’s childhood/teenage reads include, unsurprisingly, Ghost World and Tank Girl. But she’s also a Kurt Vonnegut and Hunter S. Thompson fan.
  • “I’m glad to see you turn that $5,000 computer into a phone.” Between that and reminding Lucy of exactly how much he’s just shelled out for a bit of her time, Lucy’s dad has no chill.
  • The passive-aggressive activity instruments measure “eyerolls, sarcastic remarks, and sighs.”
  • “My dad was a monster” was probably my favorite line overall.
  • “Is it okay to drink with this?” “Short answer: no. Long answer: depends on the holiday.” Okay, maybe that’s my favorite exchange ever.
  • It has occurred to me that I might be enjoying this season more because, as a woman, it resonates with me more. But, as far as coordination and looks go, Jay is a more apt stand-in for me than Katie.

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