For a show that tends to have at least one monster a week, Man Seeking Woman is the most honest comedy about modern love on television—in part because it’s willing to go to surreal extremes to get at the truth. This is a show where the main character, Josh Greenberg (played by Jay Baruchel), discovers his ex is dating Hitler, becomes surgically conjoined to a girlfriend and attends a wedding in hell, and it somehow all felt true to life because of how expertly everything was underplayed.
“We start from something we’ve already experienced and lived through,” says creator Simon Rich, “and then we just find a way to symbolically dramatize how brutal or euphoric the moment felt to us.”
The second season of Man Seeking Woman, which wrapped up last night on FXX, upped both the heartache and the insanity, with Josh falling for a co-worker who prefers his best friend Mike Vargas (played by Eric André, with whom we recently dined at Del Taco), while also finding time to unexpectedly father a child. We talked to Rich, who worked on Saturday Night Live for several years before he adapted his book Last Girlfriend On Earth into Man Seeking Woman, about the five craziest moments from the second season.
1. ULTRA MIKE VERSUS ULTRA JOSH (Episode Ten, “Balloon”)
First, Josh liked his co-worker Rosa, but she only wanted to be friends. Then she dated his best friend, Josh. Then they broke up, and in last night’s season finale Josh, thinking he finally has a chance, goes to dinner with Rosa, only to be confronted by Mike. They both feel betrayed the other, so in typical Man Seeking Woman fashion, they both turn into turn into gigantic Japanese fighters robots in the Godzilla/manga-style and prepare to fight it out.
Rich: “We always knew it was going to be an intense, dramatic episode with these two best friends facing off over a girl, but I think in our show, our male protagonists, whenever they get very macho, it tends to just be a pose, deep down. So we came up with an idea that dramatizes that: They turn into enormous Power Ranger-style killbots, but on the inside, we see that it’s just a facade. Deep down, they’re extremely emotionally vulnerable.”
The funniest part of the bit is that after Mike and Josh transform, the expected city-demolishing never occurs. After some chest puffing, the two finally own up to their hurt feelings.
“A lot of times with guys, when they are feeling very vulnerable or sad or scared, they’ll put on a very masculine, macho front to try to mask just how weak they feel,” Rich says. “So we were looking for a silly metaphor to try to capture that.”
2. IS SHE REALLY GOING OUT WITH JESUS? (Episode Six, “Honey”)
It’s bad enough when the young woman you like invites you to a party and just as your hopes are high you discover she has a boyfriend. It’s even worse when said boyfriend turns out to be none other than Jesus Christ, played by Fred Armisen, and he’s such a great guy that he’s not even mad at you for trying to steal his girl.
“In our first season we did an episode where Josh found out that his ex-girlfriend was dating Adolph Hitler, who was played by Bill Hader. We were trying to write about the pain of finding out your ex-girlfriend is dating somebody horrible. But then this season we realized it’s actually much more upsetting to find out that the girl you like is dating somebody wonderful.
"Fred is one of the funniest actors I’ve ever seen in my life. We’ve had a lot of great improvisational actors on Man Seeking Woman, but he’s the only one ever to improvise lines in convincing Aramaic jibberish. He was on last year as well as the voice of Tanaka the Japanese penis monster. But this time, he’s a little bit more visible.”
3. MIKE + JOSH = SOPHIE (Episode One, “Wings”)
In the premiere episode, we discover that Josh has completely ghosted on Mike after getting a new girlfriend, and the situation is so bad that Josh barely even has time to get wings with his best bro. But after things end with the girlfriend, Josh comes back to Mike, only to discover that in his absence his best friend has been raising their daughter by himself. (“How do you think this happened? We accidently jizzed into the same toilet,” Mike explained, “and then it got struck by lightning.”)
“That idea is from Marika Sawyer, one of the funniest writers in the world, and my old writing partner at Saturday Night Live. That’s another example of an idea where it took us a while to come up with the right metaphor for that chunk of the episode. We were trying to dramatize how hurtful it can feel when your best friend abandons you for a romantic partner. We were looking at different genres to try to find that intense melancholy, and we ended up talking about Lifetime movies, and Marika pitched that when Josh returns to Mike, they somehow have a child together.
"The actress we found to play Sophie was so phenomenal. She played the scenes with so much pathos, and Jay did an unbelievable. And how about those photographs on the fridge? Those are actual childhood photographs of the actress who plays Sophie, and we photoshopped in Eric André to make sure that they were as real as possible.”
4. NOT-JOSHEROSEXUAL PRIDE (Episode Two, “Feather”)
Everything seems to be going great with Josh and his new girlfriend, except in the bedroom. After some couples therapy, she discovers that she’s one of millions of Americans who officially identities as Not-Josherosexual.
“Sometimes two people can be totally right for each other on paper and get along and have things in common, and just not be sexually compatible. We were looking for a metaphor to try to dramatize that situation, and we happened upon this Not-Josherosexual premise.
"And Josh, over the course of the episode, has to learn a lesson: When it comes to someone’s sexual orientation, you can’t change it; you have to learn to accept it. The pride parade was extremely fun to throw together. There were a lot of excellent extras in that scene, including a few unpaid, random Toronto people who just got swept up in the excitement of marching.”
5. NOT JUST KISSING SANTA CLAUS (Episode Five, “Tinsel”)
The follow-up to last year’s spotlight on Josh’s more successful sister Liz, the Christmas episode finds her carrying on a torrid affair with none other than Santa Claus. Turns out Mr. Kringle has… a unique fetish for toy trains. (He likes them to go into his personal tunnel.)
“The character of Liz, for all of her great qualities, her intelligence, her sophistication, her extreme success, is just as vulnerable and misguided as any other human being on planet earth when it comes to romance. We were looking for a fun romantic mistake for her to make. And we happened upon the plot that maybe she was dating a married man. What kind of married man would Liz be attracted to? And the truth is, it would probably be somebody incredibly impressive and aspirational, because Liz has a pretty healthy ego herself. And somebody came up with the idea that it would be Santa Claus.
"I’d like to say there was some conversation about whether the train scene was pushing the envelope, but honestly, from top to bottom, nobody even blinked at that. [The train] was extremely temperamental. Those antique trains, they’re just incredibly delicate machines, and they don’t always swerve the way you want them to. There were a lot of takes of that train-related sex scene. More than you would believe.
"One thing that did not take a lot of takes, sort of the opposite, was when Josh decided to settle and date a Saturn [in episode three, "Scythe”]. In that episode, the car shows up drunk at the end and tries to make a booty-call on Josh after they’ve broken up. For cost reasons, we only had one chance to get that car to smash through the apartment, so we all just held our breath, and I think it turned out well. Which was good, because it was that take or nothing.“