Thursday, August 6, 2015

REVIEW: 'Difficult People' - Julie Reconnects with a High School Crush and Billy Gets a Callback in 'Devil's Three-Way'

Hulu's Difficult People - Episode 1.02 "Devil's Three-Way"

Julie seeks out an old high-school crush, and brings him to bed with her - and Arthur! Meanwhile, Billy finds a father figure in Nate.

Julie Klausner - who wrote the first episode and co-wrote this one with Scott King - really knows how to structure an episode of television. That was the thing that impressed me so much in the first episode. It's also something that was very noticeable in "Devil's Three-Way." The stories and various plot threads and jokes didn't connect as distinctively as they did in the first episode. But there's also an element of not trying too hard in the narrative either. It's just fun seeing how Julie's attempt for a threeway, Billy learning about father-son relationships and Marilyn's plastic surgery connect. It's a ton of subtle work that is able to come together both thematically and physically. At one point, each story features a character saying "Are you sure you wanna go through with this?" It's a question that the show is also asking of the audience. The answer is a very firm yes.

The events of this episode are largely just teaching Billy and Julie how they can be storytellers for an audience made up of strangers. Personal relationships are difficult for both of them. They crave the approval of people they don't know much more than they respect the opinions of the people actually in their lives. That's what makes it so meaningful that Julie has that genuine love connection with Arthur. But both are also capable of being completely out of touch with what an audience of their peers actually responds to. Their story about being stuck in elevator with Katharine McPhee is hilarious to them. It's certainly a strong pice of awkward comedic storytelling that opens the episode that only gets stronger the more time lapse cards pop up on the screen. But that was never going to be something that played well in a room - especially one that then gets so entranced by a story about child molestation.

The Katharine McPhee story is one that Billy and Julie found humorous. It's something that they feel comfortable sharing. It's not something that is difficult for them. They love talking about public figures and pop culture. That comes easy to them. Asking them to dig deeper than that is actual work for both of them. They aren't incapable of doing it. In fact, when the situations present themselves, they are more than capable of rising to the occasion. The true tragedy is in them trying to maintain those moments of true depth.

Julie sees this chance at a three-way as something that forwards the feminist cause. That's not how she saw the night going. She wanted to reconnect with this high school crush, Brian Walsh, who didn't even know she existed after she finds her old journals at her mother's house. Arthur just wanted to make sure it was clear that it wasn't a date. The two of them are confident in their relationship. He is very happy to welcome both Billy and Brian into their lives. But he wants to make sure that the line is known. He is the one in the relationship with Julie and he needs Brian to know that. Arthur didn't realize how that came across though. But it still created something that Julie was interested in. She was excited about being in a three-way with two guys. She saw that as her being privileged for once. The actual encounter wasn't that great though. It ultimately ended with Brian just watching as Julie and Arthur went all the way. It was simple but quirky. They had fun with the encounter and realized just how much they actually enjoy the other. But that didn't make them any wiser to the fact that Brian would then steal from them as soon as they left him in their apartment. They love each other but they don't always realize how things can come across - which makes them a nice pair to watch.

Meanwhile, it was great that Billy actually stood up for himself at the audition. He complains that the world around him hasn't realized how great he is. But he's also putting some effort into his career as well. That's what makes him a much more interesting character. Sure, it wasn't all that clear whether or not the casting director was being serious with her agreeing to see him again. But it was still rewarding seeing Billy actually put the work into his career. Again, it was a situation that came to Billy. He didn't know how to go about digging into the emotional territory of a father-son bond. He didn't have a meaningful one with his father and he's now dead. He didn't expect anything to happen within his dynamic with Nate. And yet, a father figure presented himself and Billy was able to learn. He was able to tap into the headspace of the material. But he still messed it all up. It was hilarious watching the two of them debate on what they should do after they hit David Byrne from Talking Heads. Leaving without making sure he was okay was the exact thing that ruined Billy's audition. So, all of this meaningful development was for naught.

It just allowed for a series of fantastic events where Julie kept getting late night phone calls - and being disappointed over her Aunt Bonnie still being alive. First was her mother being unable to see after her operation. And then, Billy needed to be bailed out of jail. The events of this episode created a story for Billy and Julie to tell. They shared it at the storytellers open mic and got a much stronger reaction. That was a huge validation to both of them. They crave the approval of strangers. And yet, they still remain the delusional people they always were. Now, they think they are too good to ever go back to that place. A typical ending for the show but one that was very funny until the very end.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Devil's Three-Way" was written by Julie Klausner & Scott King and directed by Jeffrey Walker.
  • Vice Versa is the exact kind of movie a show like this would suggest be getting a 2015 remake version. The scary thing is it could almost actually happen too.
  • Julie and Arthur's dogs are named Senator Jellybeans and Greg which seems about right.
  • Loved the running What Would You Do? parody, What Are You Going to Do? Billy and Julie would be the kind of people who would just keep on walking by and act like nothing was happening. 
  • Julie telling a story: "I said, no, give that diversity scholarship to someone more diverse than me, and that's how black-ish happened."
  • Julie to Arthur: "Listen, we're never going to have a sexist three-way with two girls and one guy because I strongly believe with all my heart that men have enough privilege in this society."