Thursday, September 3, 2015

REVIEW: 'Difficult People' - Billy Has a Big Audition While Julie Tries to Find Fame on YouTube in 'The Children's Menu'

Hulu's Difficult People - Episode 1.05 "The Children's Menu"

While Billy's boss is out of town, Billy and Julie overhaul the café menu with children's cuisine at adult prices.

The last episode of Difficult People was my favorite one so far. Conversely, "The Children's Menu" was probably my least favorite. That just shows how up-and-down these episodes can play. There just seemed like there was too many ideas at play here that didn't really add up to anything. Billy and Julie like to get distracted in their pursuit of finding fame as comedians. They have all these ideas but struggle with focusing on one and following through on it. That's the purpose of this episode - to show the many different ways these two want to have success while not doing any of them particularly well. It just didn't come across in a way that allowed some depth into either of the characters.

It is very amusing that Julie sees herself basically as a toddler. That makes perfect sense with everything she has done so far. But being childish while having adult aspirations is a very thin line to walk and this episode doesn't really succeed at it. The bits of her only wanting to eat food that would be found on a children's menu felt forced in a disingenuous way. It does lay the foundation for Billy and Julie trying to turn the cafe into a children-themed restaurant. It's one of their ideas that actually gets support from others. There's an actual line outside waiting to get in. That's a big accomplishment. But Billy and Julie are still distracted by other things going on in their lives. They continue to spread themselves very thin and aren't able to do anything particularly well.

This episode is juggling many different aspects in order to tell the best story possible. On top of the restaurant idea, there's Billy and Matthew auditioning for Saturday Night Live, Julie attempts to find stardom via YouTube, Marilyn and Sissy thrusting their unwanted advice on Julie and Billy, and Arthur being mistaken as a child molester. That last one especially is huge. And yet, there's absolutely no reason or nuance for it to exist at all. Billy and Julie see a sign on the street warning them that there's a predator in the neighborhood. A later news report shares a sketch that looks a lot like Arthur which leads to the families that have invaded the cafe leaving. But the whole story isn't rooted in anything. It's simply an explanation to get Billy and Julie out of a chaotic situation of their own making. Should the audience be worried that Arthur is now being misidentified as a child molester? Who knows. The show does nothing to say whether or not this will be something worth caring about or if it will effect the story moving forward. It's simply s plot beat that isn't even executed in a funny way. It just happens and the audience is suppose to be okay with it. And yet, it's a very sensitive topic that a show like this can't just use so casually.

The depiction of millennial YouTube stars is also very weird. The entitlement of that generation is very much a trend in comedy at the moment. Young people are able to find success on YouTube and other social media outlets while Billy and Julie continue to struggle to get noticed. Billy and Julie hate that and are a little too resentful at not being young. They do have life experience. But they don't have the tools to build a successful life and career either. The show has never been afraid to make Billy and Julie the butt of the joke. And yet, the use of YouTube in this episode just feels like lazy writing in an overall generic story.

Difficult People succeeds when it's able to find the specific humor within its characters. Julie being overwhelmed by the restaurant after she fought so hard to make it happen is wonderful. Billy finding solace in getting some constructive criticism after his failed SNL audition lifts his spirits. But in the end, both are right back to being depressed and resentful of the world and the success of others. That's the foundation for the show but this episode felt like it was too comfortable returning to that. Additionally, Marilyn is a wickedly funny character. But she is best utilized in some doses. The show shouldn't heavily rely on her because her dynamic with Julie can make some of the stories seem infuriating. She didn't have a purpose here except to be hyper critical of her daughter. That's a fantastic character beat played by Andrea Martin. But it's not something that can be sustainable the more often it is used. It was used too much here which may be one of the reasons the episode as a whole didn't quite work.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Children's Menu" was written by Julie Klausner and directed by Jeffrey Walker.
  • It's hilarious that Arthur gives the dogs all the food he made for himself, Julie and Billy because Julie doesn't like that kind of food. But why couldn't he and Billy still eat it? Also, if Arthur knows this about her, why does he continue to cook such food?
  • It's always great to see Kathy Najimy pop up in things. But she didn't really have much to do here. All she did was reinforce everything that Marilyn does - which wasn't necessary at all.
  • Julie's "Drunk Science" actually was quite funny. But that's only because the audience understands her as a character. As a random video on YouTube, it's easy to see why she doesn't find instant popularity.
  • Billy and Julie quit the Children's Menu idea for a restaurant because they don't like children and because Denise took all the profits they made from the night. Again, they want instant fame and like to quit when that doesn't happen.
  • Denise and Matthew continue to be such one-note characters. They only exist for Billy and Julie to be openly angry and resentful to someone. They don't serve any more purpose than that.
  • Billy: "Guilt is a powerful currency in your family."
  • Marilyn while clinging onto the podium: "Stress!"
  • Billy: "Hold on, I'm reading Homeland fan-fiction and Carrie and Saul are about to cry-fuck."
  • Julie: "You don't have a Children's Menu restaurant for children. You have it for me. I can't wait to die!"