With things as dire as they are, don’t we want our comedy to reflect our distressing state? Funny enough, the most cynical show on television/streaming, “Difficult People,” appears as the bright spot on the summer TV slate. In the first three episodes, the show displays no fear in not only mentioning politics, but satirizing it in the fabric of many of the plots. Because of this, the show not only becomes less alienating, but more biting, funny, and overall relatable.
Happily, “Difficult People” remains as absurd as ever. Julie (Julie Klausner) and Billy (Billy Eichner) are dysfunctional, co-dependent best friends who can’t catch a break in life. Three years into the show and the duo are still abusing prescription drugs, attending dead-end casting calls, and utilizing blow-up protest rats to get tables in moderately crowded restaurants. Each episode puts them in embarrassing situations contingent on them getting a small leg up that they end up stumbling upon. The second episode highlights this best with hilarious storylines involving Mike Pence’s conversion therapy program and the misadventures of working on a Woody Allen Amazon series.
Andrea Martin remains one of the most undervalued comedic assets as Julie’s condescending Mom, Marilyn. After two seasons of stealing scenes, “Difficult People” finds multiple ways to use this treasure of a comedic actress. Whether it is sparring with Stockard Channing or calling Julie with the code word “Emergency” for poor fitting clothing, Martin nails every line. The third episode paints Martin’s Marilyn as incapable of being told “no” to disastrously hilarious results. Her ability to turn a scene on its head while remaining consistently hilarious is a rare gift she never squanders. Between this and “Great News,” Martin emerges as the secret weapon for any absurdist comedy.
The duo of Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner continues to nail their pessimistic comedy. From the opening moments of protesting the “Bazinga” show, the duo stays acidic and entertaining. To the benefit of the show, they concentrate less on their characters and the minimal development of them. Instead, the focus shifts from one-liners to absurd locations and situations for the characters to navigate out of. This may seem like a crutch for the writers and in some ways it is. However, it does allow the show to experiment in more visual storytelling, and the central duo delivers on the gags. From walking around with blow-up mice to doing community service on Nathan Lane Memorial Lane, Klausner and Eichner have not dulled their edge.
Guest stars continue to spice up an already strong series. Vanessa Williams emerges as the standout guest as Matthew’s ex-wife who still carries a torch for him. Perhaps the funniest sight gag involves her engaging in a seduction that involves copious amounts of food destruction. This is not meant to rid recent Emmy nominee Jackie Hoffman of her title, as she pushes Rachel to new heights. Few moments are as cackle-worthy as her luring Jewish men on J-swipe over to her house to rid her basement of a dybbuk.
Who knows how much “Difficult People” will challenge itself. The Hulu original continues to succeed in placing its pessimistic protagonist in hilarious situations. Each time they come close to success, only to fail, there’s a cathartic thrill. However, it is unclear how much further this concept can hold water. Future episodes promise a love interest for Billy in the form of John Cho. This could be one step in the right direction for a series that can run out of steam quite quickly. However, for now, the show remains as funny and absurd as ever, even if being new seems to be on the back-burner.