Wednesday, September 2, 2015

REVIEW: 'Difficult People' - Billy and Julie Deal With Their Families and Religion in 'The Courage of a Soldier'

Hulu's Difficult People - Episode 1.04 "The Courage of a Soldier"

Billy visits his very Jewish brother for Yom Kippur dinner. Julie attempts to befriend a veteran to prove to Marilyn's surrogate daughter that she's charitable.

In its first three episodes, Difficult People was a show I liked a lot. I found it very amusing with characters who were outrageous but consistently funny. This show does have a solid perspective. But I didn't love everything that was happening. That's why a few episodes have piled up in my viewing. However, this past week Hulu renewed the show for a second season of 10 more episodes. That's great news for any show. It's a vote of confidence that the network is really proud of what it has already accomplished. Because of the renewal, it felt like the perfect time to get back into the show with some catch-up reviews. Plus, this is a slower week before the mania of fall premieres happens. It's a great time to just enjoy Difficult People.

"The Courage of a Soldier" is the first episode of the series that just clicks for me on every level. Both Julie and Billy are given solid stories that allows depth and insight into their characters while still being uproariously funny despite the frequent cringe humor. The show has tackled show business in every episode it has done. The third episode was a takedown of PBS. This one does the same for HBO. Even though HBO is producing some great shows right now, Julie and Billy are able to get away with saying some horrible things about their programming decisions. It's hilarious when they note that the premium cable network is only creating "gently funny comedies." Of course, stuff like Silicon Valley and Veep are much more than that but that it is still a good summation of the HBO comedy brand at the moment.

The episode also tackles the theme of being Jewish in this business. Everyone is very respectful of the fact that it is Yom Kippur. Julie points out that it's weird that Billy's agent will call despite the religious holiday - or just on the weekend as she notes later. But he's just so happy to finally have an agent to care. Most people in this universe respect religion and family. Billy and Julie do not. They have their own ambitions and will do anything to try and make them a reality. They are desperate to have their own shows. But right now, they are just a comedian with an agent and a blogger. They are nobodies who managed to get into an HBO party. That's impressive. But they are also thrown out of that party just because Julie blunts out an inappropriate thing. She was wrong to say that in that way. The private was very sexist but the room didn't know that yet - which means once again they are unable to get what they desperately crave professionally.

But both Julie and Billy are able to get some reward from dealing with their families. Neither of them wants to put up with the people they share blood with because they just don't understand the things they are interested in. Billy and Julie's friendship has shown that they are the only ones who fully understand the other. They are each other's family. That makes adding their actual families to the mix interesting. Julie's mom has already been a fixture on the show. But now, Billy's brother, Garry (Fred Armisen), pops up. His introduction really does add depth to who Billy is as a person. He doesn't care about his brother's dry cleaning business or the holiday. He just goes to the dinner because it's the pleasant and respectable thing to do. He's uncomfortable but puts up with it because he feels an obligation to be there.

Billy and Julie's families each make them feel uncomfortable. Garry thinks it's because they don't accept Billy as gay and makes sure to point out multiple times that he's fine with it. Meanwhile, Marilyn and her protégé, aka the daughter she wished she had, are more than comfortable judging Julie without actually knowing anything about her and her life. Billy has an outburst at his dinner. That was him being genuine with his family. Julie wants to go the opposite route and create a fantasy that she can just use to show that her family is wrong about her. The plots converge in a really exciting way. Garry has to pose as Julie's friend who is also a veteran. He steals the spotlight of the party but that doesn't really change Marilyn's mind about Julie or Billy. It felt good to get that win. It felt even better though to leave with Billy and just enjoy the comfort of being at home listening to the breaking news from HBO. An amusing end to a show that is just getting more confident with each passing episode.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Courage of a Soldier" was written by Julie Klausner and directed by Jeffrey Walker.
  • The joke about going through "a cunt phase" didn't really work all that well. It felt forced in a way to be edgy even though the situation didn't really require it.
  • And then, the show has a twist that includes Billy's new agent committing suicide and his mental health condition being the reason he was signed in the first place. It was tragic and dark but in a way that felt organic in a way that gave Billy what he wanted only to take it away in the end.
  • It's still just so amusing that Marilyn continues to think that Arthur is an alcoholic and nothing more than that. 
  • Julie: "Does your brother spell Gary with one R?" Billy: "Oh, I wish. Two Rs. The bad Garry."
  • Billy: "He says I have a John C. Reilly quality."
  • Billy: "You know what the holiest day is for me? The Golden Globes."
  • Billy: "Show business that's what I care about." Garry's Daughter: "That's the most Jewish thing I've ever heard."
  • Julie: "It's probably just like Bloomingdales. As soon as you find what you need, then someone appears to help you."
  • Billy: "Family is like religion. It's just for when you're dying or getting married. Any other time is just superfluous."
  • Julie: "Billy, this veteran is disgusting!"
  • Billy: "How many parties have we been kicked out of now?"