Television certainly doesn’t lack for cynical comedies; in a post-SeinfeldÂ world, sarcasm and nihilism are a common thread running through nearly every sitcom and single-camera pilot of the last twenty years. Comedy is generally a littleÂ meanerÂ than it used to be (back in the day, shows likeÂ TaxiÂ and earlyÂ CheersÂ were not the norm), but often still tries to reach for grandiose, life-affirming emotional moments; that tonal disconnect is a struggle for any comedy aspiring to have the best of both worlds.Â Difficult People, Hulu’s new series created and produced by Julie Klausner (and co-EP’ed by Amy Poehler), refuses to try and ride that line, as unforgiving and bleak a comedy there is on television today. There’s no appeals to the heartwarming or the saccharine on Difficult People; it is undeniably a very bitter comedy series about two people who can’t stop holding themselves back in life.
Bitter, with its inherent negative connotations, isn’t really the right superlative forÂ Difficult People; there’s a very specific, sincere worldview Klausner presents to the audience in the show’s first two episodes, and that honesty is refreshing. Even the most cynical comedies likeÂ It’s Always Sunny in PhiladelphiaÂ or Season 3Â ofÂ Community use irony as an avenue to accentuate philosophies or emotions; while that is a proven avenue to poignant television, the specificity with whichÂ Difficult PeopleÂ employs its muted views on lifeÂ is darkly charming.
Klausner and Billy Eichner star as early 30-somethings in New York trying to make it in the world of comedy, while working “normie” jobs, and spending too much time obsessing over pop culture or insulting the world around them. The idea, like most comedies, is that these people get in their own way too often to be successful, a familiar story to anyone who has watched a post-FriendsÂ pilot for a comedy or sitcom. YetÂ Difficult PeopleÂ offers a number of important twists that make it more than just a modern, stylized version ofÂ Will & Grace, the easy multi-camera comparison most people would make.Â DifficultÂ PeopleÂ is about crappy people trying to make their way in a crappy world, and the series neither judges or forgives itself (or us, by proxy) for that. We’re all millions of people addicted to our own “journey” – andÂ Difficult PeopleÂ points out that all of our journeys are bound to be filled with disappointment, resentment, and a lot of stupid trivia we learn along the way, facts that are neither something to celebrate, or be depressed about.
Difficult PeopleÂ understands that life just is what it is; though this sounds like a cliche, it is a simple fact most comedies (and television in general) refuse to acknowledge. There is comfort to be found in the accentuated, artificial realities of television shows; in fact, modern society proves it is one of the few truly escapist forms of entertainment we have left. However, that comes with certain caveats we choose to ignore. Whether it’s paralleling our lives with the lives of fictional people or celebrities we’ve never heard of, we’re often less navigating the seas of our own becoming than we are trying to stay afloat in a world that is obsessed with trying to leave us behind (by the very definition of evolution, that is what it’s supposed to do). That’s why a subplot with Julie’s mom getting laser surgery is so meaningful, even as a small plot mostly designed to get her mother blindly flailing around their apartment: the more we try to chase definition in life (be it professional, personal, physical, spiritual… whatever you want it to be), the less satisfied we end up being, seeing that we are people living in world that literally changes every single second.
I’ve gone off on a bit of a philosophic tangent here – andÂ Difficult PeopleÂ is not an openly metaphorical show, but its foundation is particularly refreshing. Admittedly, this is a difficult balance for a low-stakes comedy to maintain, and at times,Â Difficult PeopleÂ can lose the endearing qualities of its characters in its criticism of human narcissism; the pilot in particular, tries a little too hard to present its very specific characters and worldview. It’s almost too unapologetic, even though that quality is arguably its greatest asset. However, by the time “Devil’s Three-Way” gets rolling (and ends up with Julie in the titular situation, and Billy running over David Byrne of Talking Heads on his way to an audition), the pieces ofÂ Difficult PeopleÂ fall into place, firmly establishing it as one of the year’s more intriguing comedy debuts.
New episodes of Difficult People debut Wednesdays on Hulu Plus.
[Photo via Hulu]