Is there a more tired premise than “guy/girl gets out of long relationship and must navigate single life after being out of the dating game?” The worn out premise is even baked into the title of Man Seeking Woman. This is all to say that Man Seeking Woman isn’t necessarily starting off in the best position. Sure it has Jay Baruchel, who has mastered the art of being a lovable underdog, in addition to a well-rounded supporting cast, but who wants to watch another show about a guy getting into wacky dating scenarios and hanging out with his friends? To get people on board with another show like this, you have to put a good twist on the formula, and Man Seeking Woman definitely does.
The most interesting thing that Man does to shake up the formula is bringing the weird. After Josh Greenberg (Jay Baruchel) is dumped by his long-time girlfriend, he’s understandably heartbroken. As he walks away from his former home a solitary rain cloud follows him, dropping rain as well as dead pigeons for good measure. It’s a funny bit if not wholly original, though the pigeons are an inspired touch, and the perfect introduction to this weird ass world. Not too long after Josh’s personal storm cloud he’s set up on a blind date by his sister. To his surprise he finds himself sitting across the table from a troll. That’s not a wildly sexist exaggeration; Josh’s date was born in the forests of Sweden, lives under a bridge, and is an honest-to-goodness troll. It’s not long before she starts attacking Josh and even bites him at one point. Clearly the date is a disaster, but nobody bats an eye until Josh yells at the top of his lungs that his date is an ugly troll. Suddenly everyone is offended and Josh ends up apologizing to Gorbachenka the Swedish troll. Trust me when I say it’s much funnier on screen than it sounds in writing.
The bizarre and strange touches don’t end there. Josh winds up at his ex-girlfriend’s apartment and meets her new boyfriend, Adolf Hitler. Man Seeking Woman continues to bring the weird and the absurd, putting fresh coats of paint on an old story throughout the pilot, but the show is more than just strange and surreal dating scenarios. Josh’s dating problem is a classic lack of confidence and maybe a bit of a lack of personality. He’s stuck in a rut professionally and even socially, though he does have decent support from his best, and seemingly only, friend, Mike (Eric Andre). Baruchel is perfect for the role, having inhabited this type of character many times before, and his real strength is the warmth and earnestness he brings to Josh. It’s hard not to want to root for him. He also has plenty of experience as the straight man in comedies and his bewilderment at the insanity that happens to and around him is really fun to watch. The pilot ends on a mostly triumphant note with Josh celebrating his minor dating victory of getting a nice girl’s number on the subway, and Baruchel does a wonderful job of conveying the joy that Josh feels in that moment. The show demonstrates his jubilance by having not just Mike congratulate him, but also The MacArthur Foundation and even President Obama.
Man Seeking Woman is strongest when it’s using inventive and absurd situations to visualize Josh’s emotional state or to put a fresh twist on old rom-com and sitcom situations. Baruchel is solid in the role even if it’s something we’ve seen him do before. Moving forward, I’m hoping the show can continue to put Josh into familiar situations before pulling the rug out from under him, and the audience, in unexpected ways. The show also has a lot of heart and if it keeps both those things up Man Seeking Woman could be the first great TV surprise of 2015.