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

Man Seeking Woman: “Branzino”

Illustration for article titled Man Seeking Woman: “Branzino”

After the entertaining and eventually joyful “Stain,” the latest entry from Man Seeking Woman is disappointing, failing to capitalize on the energy of the previous episode’s closing scene. In “Branzino,” Josh casts a wide net looking for a new relationship and eventually settles for Rachel, who while not his first choice, at least lives in-state. Josh is determined to make the relationship work, casting aside first his personality and preferences, then Mike, and finally, half his body in an attempt to prove to himself and anyone watching that he and Rachel are soul mates. From the first scene, it’s clear things won’t work out, but Josh goes through the motions anyways and while the episode has a few chuckles and features several strong performances, there’s little here that’s particularly memorable.

“Branzino” opens with Josh reading rejection letter after rejection letter from women to whom he’s applied for the role of boyfriend. The sequence is on the smarmy side, calling back to Josh’s earlier romantic woes, which have been prompted by his lack of respect for or interest in the women he’s dated as individuals, and obvious lines like, “Don’t worry about it, buddy. Nobody gets into Kristen” don’t help. The scene does hint at an interesting parallel between the dating world and college admissions, however: the idea of safety schools. Mike advises Josh to take a break and try again, as the only acceptance he gets is from a woman who seems like a terrible fit, but she lives nearby and Josh is tired and not up for another round of rejection. The role of proximity and exhaustion in selecting partners is an interesting concept and it’s a shame this isn’t explored further.

With Josh and Rachel awkwardly attempting to finish each other’s sentences only three weeks in, it’s time to meet the parents, which allows for the return of Robin Duke and Mark McKinney as Josh’s mom and her partner, Tom. The talk show, a far more pleasant interrogation sequence than Josh’s previous onscreen conversation with his mom, works well thanks to Duke’s performance and the random interjections from Tom and his band (His Friends From Work), but aside from discovering that this time, Josh at least knows what his girlfriend does for a living, little stands out. The scene is enjoyable in the moment, but fleeting, a trend throughout the episode.

Fun as Duke and McKinney are here, the standout of the episode is Eric André as Mike, who is fantastic during the central bros-as-dogs sequence. Mike crashes Josh and Rachel’s dinner party, bro-ing out and generally being terrible until Rachel asks Josh to put him in the other room, when André pivots Mike from obnoxious to innocently excitable. This continues throughout the next scene, when Josh drops a downright adorable Mike off at the Chill Acres Bro Shelter. The fabulous Carrie Brownstein pops up as one of the employees, tricking Mike into his cell with Doritos and Call Of Duty, and she’s good in the role, but as with the talk show sequence, the scene elicits chuckles and nods of recognition rather than belly laughs. Neither impacts the larger arc of the episode—by the end of both scenes, nothing has actually changed—and this makes them pleasant, but unnecessary, digressions.

The final set-piece sees Josh and Rachel decide they should get surgically conjoined, a great concept that unfortunately never lives up to its potential. Everyone knows at least one couple who is (or was, before they split) gratingly codependent and “Branzino” demonstrates this beautifully. Jay Baruchel and Claire Stollery work well together throughout the episode, making Josh and Rachel a believable and annoyingly saccharine pair from their first scene, but they’re particularly good in the montage of the two cooking, walking, and even swinging in the park together. It’s an excellent illustration of a common dating phenomenon, but like the rest of the episode, this never really goes anywhere. The best moment in the sequence is Liz’s reaction when Josh and Rachel announce their plans—Britt Lower’s delivery of, “we still have separate bodies” is delightful—but afterwards, the writers don’t come up with any particularly creative ideas to complement the visual of a couple literally attached at the hip. Is this level of codependence new for Josh? Was he this clingy with Maggie? Is this a pattern with Josh that Mike has had to deal with time and again, or is this something new for him? While it’s great that the gag doesn’t outstay its welcome, this is one of the more underdeveloped of the series’ high concept ideas, a strong premise that winds up feeling wasted.

Despite being an all-together pleasant and enjoyable episode, this late in the season, “Branzino” is a bit of a letdown. Hopefully with its last two episodes, Man Seeking Woman will recapture the energy and creativity of its earlier installments, ending what has been a solid freshman season on a confident note.


Stray observations:

  • Congratulations to the Man Seeking Woman cast and crew on getting renewed for season two!
  • Tom counting his band off to seven is a great little moment.
  • I like just about all kinds of eggs, but those soft boiled monstrosities looked disgusting.
  • What was Mike dreaming about to prompt him to mutter, “Paul Blart, Mall Cop,” and did he mean the film or the character?
  • This episode may have killed “cute” for me as a positive descriptor, at least as it pertains to couples.
  • The closing scene in the strip club has two details I enjoy. It seems Josh actually does like malbec—I doubt he’d have ordered a soft boiled egg, in comparison—which is at least one nice thing he can carry out of the relationship. Also, while the final shot of Josh’s destroyed body may just be there as a striking visual to end on, I like it as a nod to the initial wound left by every breakup, even those that are inevitable or entirely mutual.