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

Josh-centric Man Seeking Woman settles for straightforward silliness

Illustration for article titled Josh-centric Man Seeking Woman settles for straightforward silliness

After teasing a more varied approach to season two in its promising premiere, Man Seeking Woman returns to its Josh-centric season one formula in the entertaining, but underwhelming “Feather.” Though the stronger narrative through-line of “Wings” is present here, tying the episode together, the supporting cast is sidelined almost entirely, making the episode feel disposable. It’s not a coincidence that the best episodes of Man Seeking Woman make use of their talented ensemble; without them, the audience only has Josh and his relationship of the week to invest in and while Jay Baruchel is frequently fantastic as Josh, there’s little he can do when relegated to being an audience surrogate—rather than giving a distinct or heightened performance—to energize a flagging concept.

A prime example is the first main bit of the episode, Josh’s conversation with his nearly expired condom. The idea is creative and funny, and the finished visual of the talking condom itself works surprisingly well, but there isn’t enough heft to the concept to sustain the time given it. Despite Josh Robert Thompson’s entertaining vocal performance as the condom, the segment winds up marking time, progressing the plot without offering anything new to consider. In comparison, the opening scene, where Josh literally bores a woman to death, is timed perfectly, just long enough to set up, execute, and move on from the gag, with Mike’s near death serving as a great button.

Similarly overlong is the middle segment, which has some fun in the sex shop but then overextends the bit by delaying the inevitable. As soon Josh and Claire enter the sex store, the next chunk of the episode is a foregone conclusion: They will find a toy that satisfies Claire sexually as Josh cannot and over time, Josh will grow increasingly uncomfortable with this until his insecurity pushes them to a breaking point. The specifics of the sex toy chosen, The Kyle, are appropriately over the top and once again, the execution of the idea is great, from the packaging for the Kyle doll to the game performances of both Aaron Hammond as Kyle and Liane Balaban as Claire. However, there aren’t any twists or unexpected nuances to the segment. Josh reacts just as anticipated and rather than peel back more layers to the concept or push Josh to explore his sexuality, even just to confirm his initial reaction, the episode settles for easy and expected sight gags.

The conceit with the most depth is the final one, Claire’s coming out as Not-Josherosexual. Here the episode surprises, having Josh react defensively at first, but giving him a breakthrough and allowing him to eventually demonstrate uncharacteristic maturity. This is a welcome continuation of the series’ season one deconstruction of the Nice Guy archetype, the concept that women overlook the sexual viability of men if they are too nice, preferring dashing jerks. This lazy, sexist characterization was at one point aggravatingly common on television—thankfully it’s not as prominent now as it once was—and season one’s take on that, having Josh eventually realize he’s not the nice guy he wanted to see himself as, was refreshing. By paralleling Claire’s lack of sexual interest in Josh to other sexual orientations, the show gives Claire an instantly understandable shorthand that cuts away any excess baggage. She doesn’t hate Josh, he didn’t do anything wrong, and she honestly thinks he’s great and would love to be his friend. She just isn’t, “interested in playing with [his] ding-dong.” The beauty of the concept is its simplicity, and in how it lets Josh feel disappointed and upset with the situation while helping him let go of his anger towards Claire. That clarity is a rare thing, and it’s nice to see the often myopic Josh experience it.

Despite feeling comparatively slight, “Feather” is still enjoyable, with enough whimsy and creativity to sustain the episode, if not make it sing. While the lack of substantive material for the supporting cast is certainly felt and the episode remains in Josh’s perspective throughout, the last segment in particular has an awareness of and respect for Claire’s point of view that is encouraging. It may not be the multiple perspectives of “Wings,” but this is a step in the right direction for Josh and the show as a whole, and is something that will hopefully be expanded upon as the season continues.

Stray observations

  • Even the last segment of the episode feels a little overstretched, with Josh and Claire trying to make it work after therapy seemingly to fill time before Josh has his breakthrough. However, if that’s the only way the writers could fit in Claire’s hilarious Not-Joshero internet porn, the digression is absolutely worth it.
  • Speaking of Claire’s computer, another example of Man Seeking Woman’s attention to detail: Her browser history is filled with comics, sci-fi, and cooking links, not just porn.
  • 10% to 100% of the population being Not-Joshero is a lot to take in. All things considered, he handles the news pretty well. Also, I would love to peruse No Josh, No Regrets: A History of Not-Josherosexuality.
  • As in “Wings,” the closing tag to “Feather” is absolutely delightful. Returning to The Kyle once more and sending him off into the sunset—to finish his degree in applied mathematics—is a great way to end the episode.