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

Man Seeking Woman: “Traib”

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“Traib” picks up directly after the events of “Lizard,” with Josh still riding a high after successfully getting Laura’s number. One glimpse of a potential new relationship and Josh is happily telling Mike he’s over Maggie. His apartment has other ideas, however, and that leads to the episode’s first fantasy sequence. As in the pilot, there’s a lack of consistency to “Traib”’s fantastical elements. Are they actually happening or are they dreamed up by the protagonist? Maggie’s things are indeed spookily haunting Josh (Mike and the priest directly interact with them, as happened with Gorbachaka and Hitler), but the episode’s standout sequence, Josh’s text consultation and resulting national coverage of Laura’s response, features a host of characters sprung out of Josh’s subconscious (similar to Josh’s call from the MacArthur Foundation and President Obama) who nonetheless interact with Mike and Liz. Normally the reality of a show fluctuating to this extent would be distracting, but when a sequence works as well as the phone call in “Lizard” or this episode’s Dr. Strangelove-inspired texting conference, it’s hard to care.

The fantasy sequences in “Traib” continue in the vein of the pilot, going big and committing entirely, which unfortunately means when one doesn’t work, it doesn’t work for what feels like an eternity. The exorcism of the apartment starts out well, but Mr. Heart’s transformation from adorable token of happier days to violent emotional hell-spawn is an effective gag that goes on at least twice as long as it should, as does the priest’s exhortation that Josh have sex so he can truly be safe from the specter of Maggie. This advice coming from someone other than Mike—who’s become a straight-up parody of the typical sitcom bro best friend—validates it and tinges Josh’s behavior throughout the rest of the episode. Laura is no longer a cute woman with kind eyes that Josh met on the train, she’s a chance to have sex and get over Maggie, and his lack of interest in her as an individual likely contributes to their dismal date.

First things first, though: The highlight of the episode is without a doubt its central set-piece, Josh’s struggle to come up with the right text to send Laura. It’s an instantly relatable sequence (who hasn’t fretted over what to text someone?) and the best representation of the drama of texting since How I Met Your Mother’s “The Three Day Rule.” Josh’s uncertainty is great, as are Mike and Liz’s terrible suggestions. Mike’s rousing speech is particularly effective, with Eric André nailing the delivery. André dials Mike up a notch in “Traib,” taking him from potential real guy in “Lizard” to impish cartoon devil on the shoulder here. It’s a good look for the character and far more entertaining than the unexplored dude bro of the pilot. Mike may try his hardest to get Josh to send Laura a dick pic, but he knows it’s actually a horrible idea and it’s one he probably only pushes for because he knows Josh won’t do it.

The set design of the Center For Important Emergencies is fantastic, with its overhead lighting and glowing, clear dry-erase boards instantly setting the mood and establishing the high stakes for Josh—or how high the stakes feel in this moment. Gideon Glick’s scientist gets some fun lines (“women enjoy texts in which you reference something that you talked about before, but we have no idea why”), but the casting of Michael Hogan as one of Josh’s consultants is what takes the sequence over the top. Hogan’s delivery is wonderfully intense and having Col. Tigh as the proponent of the cute/emoji approach—yes, the character is named Bradley, but isn’t it more fun to imagine Tigh in the role, drunkenly shouting, “Text jk!”?—is delightful. The deliberation over what to text, with Josh ultimately sending the exact text he initially read out to Mike, gives way to nerve-wracking silence, as the world waits for Laura’s response, celebrating together at her text back, “Sounds good” (no punctuation—Gen. Bradley would approve).

Of course Josh and the rest of the world’s exhilaration at the confirmed date far outpaces any excitement shown by Laura, and their dinner is just as awkward as their ride on the train. Both Jay Baruchel and Vanessa Bayer are good in the scene, giving plenty of space to the uncomfortable pauses in a struggling conversation between two people who may each think the other is cute, but don’t actually feel any chemistry and can’t come up with anything to say. As soon as Josh loses the romantic comedy momentum with Must Love Dogs, his confidence is shot and the date is doomed. The denouement of the episode, as Josh’s imagined night of supreme romance dissolves into a mess of sopping wet clothes and an over-sharing violinist, may also go on a bit long, but there are enough nice touches in the final moments (really, Josh? Infinite Jest? Laura was never going to believe you were actually reading Infinite Jest) to make it work. Though “Traib” has higher highs than the pilot, it also has more misses. Mike gets a bit more defined here and the episode benefits; hopefully Josh and Liz won’t be far behind. For now, however, the series can more than get by with its continued creativity and humor.

Stray observations:

  • Liz’s pride at her punny text, “Choo choo, it’s Josh from the train. Next stop: Dinner?”, and the reaction shots around the table, gives Britt Lower her best moment of the episode.
  • Both “Traib” and “Lizard” have authority figures speak in delightfully unsophisticated language to great effect. Here it’s Hogan’s, “Well it’s just a normal thing, like someone would say.”
  • Another fabulous line delivery from Hogan indicates the generals are manifestations of Josh’s internal conflict, “She’s gonna think we’re crazy.” Could these figures recur? I’d be all for seeing the generals and Glick’s scientist back in another context.
  • Bayer’s reaction to her food is nice touch of characterization. There’s something she doesn’t like besides it being too sweet, but she doesn’t want to share more about herself. If they’d had a warmer interaction to this point, she probably would have.
  • Rob deLeeuw is fun as the violinist and his posture and hand positioning are surprisingly credible. It’s rare to see fake string playing on TV that isn’t cringe-inducing (to the trained eye). Credit to the Man Seeking Woman team for actually hiring musicians to be the other quartet members. Their playing may not match up with the music, but at least their physicality looks right!