TELEVISION
Review

'Man Seeking Woman' finds magic, emotion, humor and weirdness

Robert Lloyd
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times Television Critic

"Man Seeking Women," a conceptually lithe new comedy premiering Wednesday on FXX (not to be confused with FX, but you will anyway), stars Jay Baruchel as a man not getting over a breakup.

Clever but with feeling, it's been made with evident care and glee by people whose work you may know, if not their names. Writer Simon Rich, who has written for "Saturday Night Live" and "The New Yorker," based it, sort of, on his collection "The Last Girlfriend"; Jonathan Krisel, the behind-the-camera creative third partner in "Portlandia," is an executive producer and the show's main director. Other writers have history with "The Simpsons," "The Office" and "The Onion."

A magic-realism situation comedy, it is not exactly without precedent, but the things that it's like are good things. Many years ago, "My World and Welcome to It" wove the works of James Thurber into an NBC sitcom that flitted into sometimes (literal) cartoon fantasy; "Louie" and "Broad City" and Krisel's "Portlandia" take, as "30 Rock" took, regular excursions into unexplained surreality.

And like "Portlandia" and "30 Rock," this is a production of Lorne Michaels' Broadway Video. There are debts owed as well to the screen comedies of Woody Allen and Luis Buñuel.

Still adolescent-gangly at 32, Baruchel plays Josh, a nice guy two steps behind the rest of the world. He is in need of some renovation; in the way of the sitcom, his best friend Mike (Eric Andre) and sister Liz (Britt Lower) are the devil and angel on his left and right shoulders, their counsel is equally useless, even dangerous.

The stories in "The Last Girlfriend" are high-concept humor pieces, more S.J. Perelman than J.D. Salinger. But they are also love stories, and "Man Seeking Woman" plays like a sketch comedy with an emotional through-line. It begins as a familiar tale of urban romantic anxiety and then quietly morphs into something richer and stranger, mixing the ordinary and the uncanny without comment.

The woman Josh's sister has set him up with on a date turns out to be a troll, not in the Internet sense but in the mythological sense. "She was born in the Scandinavian forest. She moved here last year so she could run her nonprofit and live underneath the Wabash bridge."

A war room of generals and statisticians convenes to help him write a text to a girl he met on the train (Vanessa Bayer). A priest is called in to exorcise the demons from the odds and ends left in Josh's apartment by his old girlfriend, whose new boyfriend turns out to be 126-year-old Adolf Hitler (Bill Hader, heavily made up, brilliantly offhand).

"I know he's got a weird rap, and people think he's sketchy or whatever, but in person he's actually pretty cool," Mike says.

Convincingly mounted and splendidly played, the show packs in a lot without seeming to, moving from one weird scene to another while maintaining a kind of emotional integrity. It makes you feel as if the real world is only marginally more sensible than this one. It does its job: It draws you in.

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'Man Seeking Woman'

Where: FXX

When: 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. Wednesday

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