FXX’s Man Seeking Woman is a seemingly infinite game of reflections between the life of millennials and the pop culture that reared them alongside their boomer parents. The series works through its characters’ romantic frustrations via fast, methodical, often elaborate correlations to not just the timeworn conventions of film and television, but in some cases to the divided nature of our darkening political landscape.
“Futon,” the premiere episode of the show’s third season, gently sets up the affection Josh (Jay Baruchel) has for his new girlfriend, Lucy (Katie Findlay), as a salve for all the little inconveniences of her day, before then likening the turf war that plays out between Josh and Lucy’s roommates (he’s hanging around their apartment too much) to the crisis of undocumented immigration. The show’s project is one of narcissistic identification, but like your average millennial, Man Seeking Woman is proudly woke: When authorities conspire to prevent Josh from crossing the border into her apartment, Lucy shuns her nationalist roomies and crosses the border herself to move in with Josh.
Take it as a spoiler that Josh may have finally found the love of his life this season, but the four episodes previewed for press suggest that Man Seeing Woman is far from running out of surprising and absurd riffs on the many ways in which people in love are prone to playing the part of their own worst enemy. At its finest, which is to say at its most compassionate, the series understands romantic friction as a collaborative effort.
“Pad Thai” sees Josh and Lucy already stuck in a complacent rut, never leaving the house that’s become their “Ken Burns theater.” The episode’s thematic obsession with how the comfort of old habits and the temptation of the new are seemingly incompatible desires is given a coherent workout through a series of impeccable genre riffs, most prominently in the allure of an Indiana Jones-type hunk (Kevin McGarry) promising Lucy, whom he hires to make a logo for his treasure-hunting business, the “life of excitement” that she no longer feels she has with Josh. By episode’s end, a missed opportunity becomes the impetus for reinvention, with Josh and Lucy opting to make equal room in their life for multiple screenings of the same Rick and Morty episode and jaunts to their town’s newest beer garden.
Man Seeking Woman is often at its funniest when sending up the neuroses we’ve come to associate with romantic attachment and rituals: In “Bagel,” Josh’s intent to marry Lucy is seen as synonymous with his desire to have anal sex with her, after which the method of his proposal is presented as a film preview before a Comic Con-like crowd. At the heart of this and other episodes is the social approval of our romantic relationships. In “Popcorn,” Lucy’s childhood home suggests a James Wan haunted-house attraction, though the evil energy that hilariously wreaks havoc throughout is nothing more insidious than the passive-aggressiveness that Lucy obliviously inherited from her parents (Mark Moses and Juliet White).
Like many Man Seeking Woman episodes, “Popcorn” journeys in and out of so many rabbit holes that it risks completely losing the thread of its inspiration, and tiringly so; also, the way the deck is sometimes stacked a little too much in Josh’s favor can feel like a betrayal of the audience’s trust in the show’s generally empathetic depiction of Baruchel’s protagonist. But like many an episode, it has a way of unexpectedly disarming you with the way man and woman arrive as if by abstract accident at a place of mutual understanding, and the effect is almost cosmic in its good-heartedness.