Tuesday, July 12, 2016

REVIEW: 'Difficult People' - Julie Exploits Her Religion in Order to Get a TV Writing Job in 'Unplugged'

Hulu's Difficult People - Episode 2.01 "Unplugged"

Julie tries to fit in with a group of high-power, Jewish TV writers. Billy tries to fit in as rich boyfriend's kept man. Marilyn makes a video will.

Difficult People had a fine first season last year. The episodes were hit-or-miss. The tone and specifics of the storytelling need to be perfect in order to really work. When the show works, it's pretty awesome. It didn't always achieve that though - even though most of the episodes had at least one solid laugh. It should be exciting to see how the show develops in its second season with an increased episode order - from 8 to 10 episodes. "Unplugged" is a strong season premiere that has fun with the connections between the stories. It is difficult to juggle three separate stories in 25 minutes and make sure that they all have purpose. And yet, everything that happens in this premiere is fun and pretty funny even if it doesn't always connect well. It's a nice return for a show that is only poised to grow and get stronger this season.

It's simply funny that Billy and Julie can't break out of their destructive patterns. They know they have to change or risk ruining yet another thing like they always have. Billy wants to have a regular gym. But he continually finds himself trapped in a pattern of sleeping with a guy there and then having to leave after he breaks up with him. He wants this latest gym to work because he does want to be healthy. He doesn't want to be a slut forever. And yet, all it takes is a cute guy looking in his direction in the steam room for that plan to go out the window. It's a basic desire that Billy loves. He enjoys sex at a gym. There he is just able to focus on how attractive the other person is while ignoring their actual personalities. That's always where he comes into conflict. He can always find something wrong with a guy. Here, it's exaggerated to phenomenal effect. His hookup, Cecil (John Mulaney), happens to be an old-timey person. A guy who enjoys the old way of life. It's a lifestyle that takes Billy by surprise. This is the type of thing that will end this relationship - as well as this new gym. And Billy was so excited about finally finding a place to work out.

And yet, Billy doesn't break up with Cecil just as quickly as their relationship started. He wants to be a better person. He doesn't want to just ghost someone once the relationship turns sour. He wants to be able to let Cecil down easily. But more importantly, Billy enjoys the luxuries of life Cecil is able to give to him. Cecil is an heir to a jelly bean fortune. That's impressive, weird and colorful all at the same time. Of course, the episode really doesn't delve deep into Billy enjoying this wealthy lifestyle. He enjoys being a kept man. But that really doesn't seem to change him when he's just hanging out with Julie and Arthur. It's mostly just a montage where Cecil gives Billy lots of stuff - including a car. But this relationship isn't something meant to last for Billy either. He wants to believe he can be gentle with a breakup. And luckily, he is. That showed real growth and maturity. Of course, it's not something that lasts very long after Billy learns an even more surprising detail about Cecil.

Meanwhile, Julie is trying to use her religion to get a writing job on a television show. Whenever the show embraces the behind-the-scenes antics of the entertainment industry, it's great. Here is no exception. She doesn't want to be writing recaps of TV shows for the rest of her life. She has greater aspirations than that. But she doesn't have a connection into the industry that will help her advance her career. She finally believes she has an in with a Jewish group of writers. She wants to impress a showrunner, Lilith (Sandra Bernhard), who could finally give her a staff writing job. Of course, the story also gets in some nice digs at Netflix and the idea that 30 minute dramas are technically called comedies. It's a lot of fun. It also forces Julie to embrace her Jewish heritage a little bit - though she finds a loophole around being unplugged for 24 hours. She simply has Arthur read everything from her phone to her. That's actually quite nice as well - though it does take him awhile to find anything positive about her online. But it's still nice to see Julie get so close to success in this industry.

It's also fantastic the show tries to break down the old-timey trend. That reveal happens early in the episode with Cecil. It's played as something the audience is just suppose to accept. The show is a heightened version of reality. So it's not surprising that this is a trend that Billy and Julie just can't deal with in this world while also suggesting that it exists. It's super annoying and they don't have time for it. And yet, they both embrace it because it can really improve their lives. Billy loves the stuff Cecil can give him. Meanwhile, Julie uses that as a premise for a show idea she pitches to Lilith. Of course, Lilith thinks it's too absurd and not grounded in reality. The show is questioning our willingness to just go along with these fantastic ideas. That's wonderful. It forces the audience to question the nature of the show's storytelling. Plus, it's all building to the reveal that Billy and Julie really can't change too much despite their best intentions. Billy broke up with Cecil in a nice and easy way while Julie actually got a job with Lilith. And yet, they ruin all of that because of the reveal that Cecil is also a Neo-Nazi. That's a surprising reveal that the episode actually built towards with the early joke of Julie saying all antique dealers actually have a secret Nazi memorabilia room. It's just shocking when Billy and Julie see what type of person Cecil really is. So, Billy lashes out and burns this bridge as much as he can. Meanwhile, Lilith sees Julie in the Nazi room with no context for what's happening and vows to make sure she never gets a writing job anywhere. It shows that growth really isn't coming for Billy and Julie. But that's more than okay because who would really want Billy or Julie to change from the horrible people they are?

Some more thoughts:
  • "Unplugged" was written by Julie Klausner and directed by Jeffrey Walker.
  • At times, the show can struggle with incorporating Marilyn in an organic or necessary way. Here, she's given her own subplot that has very little to do with Billy or Julie. And yet, it's hilarious because she's trying to make a video will and Tina Fey (playing herself) just so happens to be directing. Though the story just seems to end as well with no resolution as to how people would react to these gifts from Marilyn. Unless this is going to be a recurring story this season?
  • Tina Fey really is quite the scene-stealer here as well because she's spoofing herself while also absurdly being a director for an episode of The Blacklist. It's great that the job is her agent's dream and not hers. And yet, with Marilyn's help, Tina realizes she likes directing.
  • Tina Fey may not be a director but she's completely captivated by the equipment. That's why she agrees to help Marilyn - even though Marilyn has no idea who she is. And Marilyn loves to name drop her celebrity patients. Plus, the joke that this is the same camera used to shoot Grace and Frankie because it helps the people look younger is fantastic.
  • Julie only interacts with her mother at the wake of Marilyn's friend who died right in front of her while playing tennis. Marilyn is more concerned that they didn't win the match. But it's largely just a way to get Julie back to her faith and possibly into the group of Jewish writers.
  • As soon as Julie's Neo-Nazi neighbor showed up at Cecil's party, it seemed inevitable that the big Nazi reveal would happened. And yet, it was still pretty funny once it did.
  • Not surprisingly, Billy learns that he just needs to find a gym that doesn't have a shower or locker room. That way he can't sleep with any of the cute guys there. So what if it may be an inconvenience to get there?