Watching the preview episodes of “Man Seeking Woman” on my computer, I noticed that whenever the screen went black for a moment, I saw a glassy reflection of my face looking back at me. And each time that happened, I saw myself wearing a big, fat ugly-smirk, lost in a state of amusement and admiration over the impossibly clever joke that is this FXX comedy.
Really, I find it fairly outrageous that “Man Seeking Woman,” which returns for season two on Wednesday night at 10:30, works so well. It’s the kind of experimental TV storytelling that, after it has provided a quick rush, often becomes tiresome and falls flat. Many shows will toy with new formats for an episode, such as the silent “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” the backward “Seinfeld,” and the “Felicity” modeled after “The Twilight Zone.” Then they swiftly return to their conventional narrative styles.
But not “Man Seeking Woman,” which is essentially a weekly half hour of continuous hallucinations, as temp worker Josh Greenberg (Jay Baruchel), 28, looks for love in New York City. The show doesn’t just dabble in surreal flashes, like the late, great “Scrubs”; it lives in them full-time. It’s TV LSD. The season premiere, for example, finds Josh in a relationship with a woman and forsaking his best friend, Eric Andre’s lovable Mike. Mike just wants to get high with Josh like usual and watch the “Blade” trilogy, but Josh is too busy baby-talking with his girlfriend. It’s like Josh has been lost in combat — and, voila, two somber military officers show up at Mike’s door with sad news: “Doctors say he may never hang again.” Later, Mike and Josh discuss the end of their friendship — and, voila, bickering divorce attorneys are negotiating for them.
In a way, the show, created by author and former “Saturday Night Live” writer Simon Rich, is an homage to metaphor and the imagination. It takes phrases such as “bored to death” and makes them literal, so that when Josh is chatting up a woman at a party she croaks on the spot. And the conceits can get more original and out-there, such as in episode two, when Josh must deal with a girlfriend who isn’t sexually attracted to him. Eventually, she joins the “Not-Josh-erosexual” movement and marches in their pride parade. The middle-age man’s cliched romance with a car? Josh tries it out in episode three, as he sees himself balding. And yes, he and the car do get intimate. I frequently find myself thinking of filmmaker David Cronenberg during “Man Seeking Woman,” particularly his “Naked Lunch” and another eroticized car story, “Crash.”
If the show sounds like a series of gimmicks, I suppose it is, in a way. But Baruchel, along with Andre, brings a humanity to the intellectual trickery that it might otherwise lack — not terribly unlike what J.D. and Turk did on “Scrubs.” Josh and Mike are both sympathetic and everyman-esque, and their lives as single 20-somethings in the city are familiar and grounded in what we’ve already seen so many times before on popular sitcoms such as “Friends” and “How I Met Your Mother.” While “Man Seeking Woman” dazzles with its ingenious set pieces, it also manages to work as an emotionally engaging narrative.
In our current era of Too Much TV, there is a crowded subcategory of Too Much Overlooked TV that includes shows such as “Please Like Me,” “Catastrophe,” and “Man Seeking Woman.” They’re geared for the few and not the many, but that’s their secret ingredient. They hammer out unique sensibilities that speak to specific niches of viewers, often at the exclusion of the mainstream. Only you can know if you’re a part of the “Man Seeking Woman” niche, which includes viewers who are willing to take kooky flights from reality. I definitely am.
MAN SEEKING WOMAN
Starring Jay Baruchel, Eric Andre, Britt Lower, Mark McKinney, Robin Duke.
On FXX, Wednesday night, 10:30 p.m.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.