The show begins with Josh (Jay Baruchel) awkwardly leaving the apartment of his now ex-girlfriend Maggie (Maya Erskine). As he walks away, heartbroken, suddenly it starts raining. But it’s only raining on him, nobody else. Dead birds fall from the sky and hit him, furthering his depressing state. The show only gets weirder from there. Within the next ten minutes, he’s gone on a date with an actual troll. Yes, you read that right. An actual troll. By the end of the pilot he’s also discovered that his ex-girlfriend is dating Hitler. Yes, that Hitler. This is just the first episode, and there are 9 more to go from there (plus another season on the way!), each one getting progressively more bizarre.
FXX’s comedy, which airs on Wednesday nights and is created by showrunner Simon Rich, has many strengths, chief among them being how it takes very relatable situations and turns them all the way up to 11 through absurd and surreal humor. Who hasn’t felt like their ex is dating Hitler? Of course, being a third wheel on a date is the same thing as being a third wheel in a couples ice dancing routine, right? You may have had to call an exorcist to help cleanse your friend of things from their ex that they’re still holding on to. Your mother grilling you about who you may or may not be dating can be tantamount to being in a torture chamber. Sending a text to a crush can require a war room of expert consultants.
What makes it work is how much the show and its cast commit to the absurdism and surreality of it all. An episode begins with Josh getting several rejected letters of admissions from different women, Mike tries his best to console him after each one, saying things like “That’s a 6-year program, you don’t want that.” and “Nobody gets into Kristen.” Everybody but Josh loves Hitler (played hilariously by Bill Hader), he’s a cool guy! When Hitler finds out Josh is Jewish, he jokingly goads the room saying “Uh-oh…..Uh-oh….there’s a Jew at Hitler’s party!” and everyone laughs along. The war room for the text message is a real highlight of the show, shot with the immediate intensity of Tony Scott’s best thrillers. When Josh sends the text off to the girl, an old general-type gravely says, “May God forgive us.”
The cast is a winning one, with Jay Baruchel exceling in perhaps his most Jay Baruchel-esque role to date. Baruchel has always played unintimidating and awkwardly average guys, usually in supporting roles, but here he gets to explore the full comedic potential of that archetype, and really shines as the lead. Eric André (of the anarchic and hilarious The Eric André Show) is having a great time playing Josh’s friend Mike, an overgrown fratboy with not enough world to party in. He’s the inverse of Josh, able to pick up girls and be successful in life while Josh flounders around. André and Baruchel have terrific chemistry, and play off each other well in each scene, the polarity of the pairing creating genuine laughs. André may be the funniest man on television right now, and he continues to prove it here. Britt Lower is a formidable presence as Josh’s sister Liz, comedically sparring with everyone on screen, and Maya Erskine makes the most out of her recurring role as Josh’s ex Maggie, consistently keeping Baruchel on his toes. A who’s-who of comedy MVPs pop up in small but memorable roles throughout the season, like Carrie Brownstein, Tim Heidecker, Bill Hader, and Marc Evan Jackson.
What’s interesting is that the show isn’t afraid to acknowledge that most, if not all, of Josh’s mishaps and misfortunes are caused by himself. It’s not fate or others that consistently ruin Josh’s episodic chances at romance, it’s Josh. With each episode, you realize that although you want the best for Josh and can relate heavily to him, his problems are ultimately created by his inability to move on and accept responsibility for his own shortcomings in life. This thankfully arrives at an arc near the end of “Stain”, when Josh realizes all of this in a monologue, accompanied by a tiny demon shoving fire-ants up a hell-dweller’s butt. In addition, what’s great about the show is that even with all the bizarre hilarity, it can flip the switch and play earnest and honest moments as skillfully as its most funny moments. Even in arguably the show’s weakest episode, “Sizzurp”, it manages to create the space for an honest moment to flourish. Consider when Josh talks with his sister about how hard it is to be with a girl who is perfect, and she remarks that although she might be perfect overall, she might not be perfect for him. It’s a moment of clarity for Josh that you’re not expecting this show to have. Ultimately, it’s the ability to balance moments both comically absurd and brutally honest that makes this the most original and inventive new show to debut this year.