Wednesday, August 12, 2015

REVIEW: 'Difficult People' - Billy and Julie Do a Roast In Order to Help Arthur at His Job in 'Pledge Week'

Hulu's Difficult People - Episode 1.03 "Pledge Week"

Billy hits it off with a new man, only to find out he's a "participator." Meanwhile, Julie's home life crumbles as Arthur cracks under the pressure of the PBS pledge drive.

Billy and Julie can be very alienating to other people. Or they can be the people who aren't afraid to speak the truth. The way that they talk about pop culture and celebrities certainly is a way that they deflect from any true soul searching or empathizing. It shapes their personalities in a way that is all-consuming. Both of them are confronted with some serious issues when it comes to the respective people they are trying to be with in this episode. Neither one of them wants to end up with just their wits and a spot on Marilyn's couch. They want more than that in their lives. But it's also difficult for them because the moment they see something wrong they are convinced they need to run the other way.

The show isn't all that subtle with its major themes in "Pledge Week." In the end, both Billy and Julie have lines where they realize that they aren't the best at empathizing with other people. There's also a line that explains what Billy just did in his personal life in contrast to his professional one in a really transparent way. Those moments keep this episode from feeling as strong as the previous two of the season so far. But again, the humor of the characters and the situations continue to shrine through.

Billy and Julie have been working to get noticed in their industry. They have been mildly successful at that too. Billy was asked to serve as a bartender on a Watch What Happens Live episode while Julie was invited to a Simpsons event. But they aren't being recognized in a good way. They are often so mean spirited in their humor that it actually keeps them from the opportunities that they desperately want to have. That is made perfectly clear in this week's cold open where Andy Cohen (in a wonderful cameo) is explaining to Billy that Chelsea Handler doesn't want to work with him and that Julie had no right to criticize his outfit during a Real Housewives reunion special. They are both known to those two famous people. But not in any way that is rewarding or which they can actually build momentum for their careers. They are denied from appearing on the late night show and sent back to their mundane lives.

Things don't really change for Billy and Julie all that much throughout the episode either. They are capable of addressing some problems within themselves and what they are like in relationships. But that doesn't lead to a change in the status quo. The episode is basically just building towards that Simpsons party where the two arrive at the venue and realize that they weren't actually invited to the event in the first place. They are important enough to think an invitation would be possible. And they do get recognized by Martin Short (another great cameo appearance in this episode). But it's still not from anything meaningful. That's the humor of the show. For as many strides the two of them make, they will always be polarizing people who push the boundaries. They cross over the line but are still able to get away from it because of other circumstances.

It's great that Arthur tells Julie she needs to be more supportive and actually listen to him during this very stressful week for him. It's pledge week at PBS and he needs to do well otherwise he could be fired. Julie really does want to be supportive of her boyfriend. Her intentions are pure. But her actions only make the situation worse for him. Instead of choosing to stay and listen to the stress and complaints in his life, she chooses to leave. She abandons him in his time of need to give him the space he needs to actually do the job. In her mind, that is the appropriate way to handle the situation. She can't make the job better for him. So she decides not to interfere with what he needs to do. That's not what he asked for but it's what she gave him. Her ideas don't always play out as well as she thinks they will. Going back to her mother's apartment only made her more committed to her relationship with Arthur. She tried to fix Arthur's problems for him but only made things worse. She got on the air with Billy and performed a roast of all the various PBS personalities. It was a hilarious performance but certainly not something suitable for the typical PBS audience. That video going viral was the only reason Arthur got to keep his job. In the end, she was supportive of him. But she definitely walked the line of what was okay to do in this circumstance. And things will go back to the way that they always are.

Meanwhile, Billy truly believes he's losing so many career opportunities because he is so mean to celebrities. That biting commentary comes so naturally to him. Even when he pledges to stop doing it, it just continues to come out. That's what his life is like right now. He's trying to be on his best behavior professionally. But that comes at a cost to his personal life because all of those opinions get transferred to what the new guy he's dating does. He happens to be a participator. The kind of guy who volunteers for things and gets swept up in a birthday sing-a-long. That's endearing but also played for the over-the-top laughs. It's certainly different than the way Billy approaches life. But there's nothing inherently wrong with that. But Billy points it out and basically destroys the relationship. When he then chooses to participate to show just how open he really is, it backfires and only makes his point more apparent. It's a loss-loss situation for him. No matter what he does, he ends up with no one but Julie. That's tragic. But again, it's moments of understanding the characters without forcing them to change any by episode's end.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Pledge Week" was written by Julie Klausner and directed by Jeffrey Walker.
  • Kate McKinnon was fantastic as Abra Cadouglas, the city's most well-regarded sober magician. It was such a specific act that got more humorous the more the show committed to it. The magic itself wasn't all that intricate but it was very amusing to watch as she gained in popularity so quickly while Billy and Julie were on the sidelines.
  • The show has been able to get Smash references in two episodes in a row. That will probably be a trend. At least, that show's song composer Marc Shaiman seemed to be very willing to play along in his cameo appearances here.
  • Marilyn thinks Arthur is an alcoholic. She thinks that's the reason why Julie always comes home and talks about him. For a therapist, she's not the best listener. But that should make any upcoming scenes between Marilyn and Arthur hilarious to watch.
  • Billy: "I think the greatest injustice is that Martin Short hasn't gotten an EGOT. And I think all my second place grievances are probably about Marisa Tomei."
  • Billy: "It's like Game of Thrones. I wanna be okay with it. But I'm not."
  • Marilyn: "Everyone on Veep talks too fast. I'm switching to Big Bang."