One of TV’s most creative comedies is getting pretty much ignored.
There’s three types of TV comedies: the big, mainstream hits (ala The Big Bang Theory), smaller-but-beloved cult favorite (ala Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock, etc.), and the ones that are, well, just kinda there. They don’t have particularly devoted fanbases, nor do they really get a lot of online chatter — they exist to fill a timeslot, and that’s that. Once upon a time, TV comedies like this used to be occupied solely by mediocre sitcoms — after all, no one was going to develop a cult following for According to Jim or Til Death. They were around, but no one really seemed to care. And considering the quality of the show, nothing was lost in the process.
But in this new age of peak TV, where literally hundreds of quality TV series are vying for attention, it’s much easier for an actual GOOD shows to get lost in the shuffle. There’s simply too many outlets creating too many TV shows, with services from Amazon to Crackle competing for the attention of the modern TV viewer. At times, it seems the only way to parse what is actually worth watching is to listen to the chatter: the shows that get people buzzing, both online and off, have become our barometer for what is worth our increasingly slim TV time.
So, in that respect, we have failed big time when it comes to Man Seeking Woman.
On paper, Man Seeking Woman has all the trappings of the smaller-but-beloved cult favorite. It’s a weird ass single cam comedy on a cable network, anchored by actors who have devoted fans on very different sides of the comedy divide. There’s leading man Jay Baruchel, who initially made his mark with Apatow projects like Undeclared and Knocked Up, but has gained increased popularity as the lead of one of the very best animated franchises around in the How to Train Your Dragon series. And there’s also supporting actor Eric Andre, best known for his absurdist humor on Adult Swim’s talk show oddity The Eric Andre Show. Both have strong ties to the world of TV comedies, and Man Seeking Woman gives them a lot to work with in their respective styles. Lead character Josh Greenberg is right up Baruchel’s geeky, awkward alley, and Andre’s role as weird yet cocky best friend Mike makes great use of the actor’s offbeat personality. This isn’t Catastrophe or Casual, where a great show gets sidelined simply because it has very few “famous” actors involved. Baruchel and Andre should be able to bring in enough people for a devoted fanbase, on paper at least.
And really, that is all that I would expect for a show like Man Seeking Woman: it’s simply not the type of comedy that would facilitate a massive, mainstream audience, and it would be delusional to think otherwise. But in a series like this, that is clearly a feature, not a bug. Because Man Seeking Woman takes immense pleasure in how weird it is, tackling the everydays of modern dating with an incredibly offbeat, reality-defying nature. The first episode involves our main character going on a date with a hideous troll, for god’s sake, and a later Season 2 episode is about his sister having an affair with Santa Claus. The Season 2 finale climaxes with a giant mecha fight between the two lead characters. Alternate timelines, alien invasions, robot boyfriends, literal human dildos — this show is strange, and completely revels in it. Two and a Half Men this is not.
But, once again, Man Seeking Woman is exactly the type of show that should at least have a strong cult following — and the numbers show that it really doesn’t. Ratings are pretty disastrous for the comedy series, with its Season 2 averaging less than 400,000 viewers total. And buzz online is next to nothing, with very few outlets (if any, at this point) providing weekly reviews and recaps for the series. Hell, the Reddit page for the show has less than 1500 subscribers. If there’s a massive conglomerate of Man Seeking Woman fans out there, they are doing a pretty excellent job of hiding themselves. In fact, it’s only due to FXX’s tiny viewership in general that the show is allowed to even exist — even then, I was pretty stunned (if pleased) that the series got renewed after Season 2.
After all, being on FXX is a bit of a double edged sword — on the one hand, it allows the show to have a tiny tiny viewership, and still survive. But on the other, I can’t help but feel like FXX itself is in part to blame for such low viewership. The channel has really failed to break into the mainstream, known primarily for its “Every Simpsons Ever” marathons rather than its original programming. At the time of the channel’s inception, FXX was going to host all the FX original comedies, from Archer to Louie. But that plan went southside fast, and now Man Seeking Woman is one of only four scripted series on the network. And of the four shows, Man Seeking Woman is the only live-action series that started on FXX to begin with (It’s Always Sunny and You’re The Worst both began their lives on parent channel FX.)
So would Man Seeking Woman stand a chance if it was on a bigger network? I would argue yes, definitely. If this show was on Netflix or HBO or something, I would imagine that it would gain a considerable following, at least more so than it has now. It’s just really hard to convince people to go watch something on a channel (or outlet, for that matter) that they’ve never heard of — it’s the same thing that has happened with shows like Outlander (on Starz,) or Horace and Pete (formerly on LouisCK.net, now on Hulu). Even the geekier crowd that would be attracted to something like Man Seeking Woman simply don’t want to go out of their way to watch a TV series.
Which is a damn shame really, because Man Seeking Woman is a wonderfully creative, very funny little series, and I wish there was more of a conversation around it. The show premieres its third season tonight on FXX, but I doubt I’ll hear anyone talking about it on Twitter afterwards, or read very many reviews of the premiere. Even the pre-season coverage that is usually summoned up for a show before it returns is relatively muted.
In a perfect world, I imagine Man Seeking Woman having the same level of cult status that Community once had. Both are wacky comedies with a heightened sense of reality, after all, and both wear their respective eccentricities as a badge of pride. And though ratings were always low for Community, the online chatter for the show was endless, as the passionate fanbase kept the series running for years (that ebbed dramatically upon the show’s final season on Yahoo Screen, but that’s an article for another day.) Man Seeking Woman doesn’t have the same cult status, even if the quality of the show would seem to demand it.
But I guess that brings me to my final point: Man Seeking Woman is a great show, with some wonderfully funny and unique episodes. But it’s not THE BEST show. It wouldn’t make it into my Top 10 shows of the year, nor would I call it “the best comedy currently on air.” It has some episodes that are duds, some concepts that don’t really take off, and some plotlines that don’t fully come together as satisfyingly as I would hope. None of that takes away from what the show accomplishes, but do we now live in a world in which a TV show has to be 100% awesome in order to be worth ones time? Has the bar been raised to the point that being merely great isn’t enough to gain an audience?
The “Golden Age of Television” is an intensely competitive one, and now more than ever it seems like a series has to be a complete slam dunk if it hopes to be successful. Man Seeking Woman isn’t a complete slam dunk, but it scores more often than it misses. And even when it does miss, it never ceases to make the most impressive shot it can, and do it in a way that no other show on television is doing it. And isn’t that worth something?
Man Seeking Woman begins its third season tonight on FXX. Watch it now, before it becomes that show you find on Netflix five years from now and wonder why no one was talking about it. You can’t say I didn’t give you the heads up, at the very least.