Oddball television was delivered a tragic blow when FXX announced the cancelation of Simon Rich’s hilarious and bizarre Man Seeking Woman, strongly suggesting that the delightfully surreal series was indeed too precious for this world. Though not a total surprise, the news is disappointing for a variety of reasons, but mostly because the series starring Jay Baruchel and Eric André was one of the most original, heartfelt, and laugh-out-loud funny shows on television over the past few years.
Based on Rich’s novel The Last Girlfriend on Earth: And Other Love Stories, Man Seeking Woman told the story of Josh Greenberg (Baruchel), a romantically inept twentysomething who, with the help of his best friend Mike (André) traversed the often lonely, sometimes arduous road to finding true love over the course of its first two seasons. The show leaned heavily into surrealism and visual metaphors to accentuate the thorny world of dating and the life of a perpetually single young man. Over the course those two seasons, the series grew more confident in its storytelling, shifting from essentially doing sketches in episodic form to a more serialized structure, one that saw best friends Josh and Mike pursue the same woman (Rosa Salazar) over the course of an entire season. The result was a narratively rich venture that aimed to tell more complex stories about its characters and what motivates them, while also maintaining the distinct tone and eccentric sensibilities that made the series a standout in the first place.
Demonstrating a willingness to evolve with every season, Man Seeking Woman underwent a near total reboot with season 3, shifting from a very male-centric point of view concerned with the trials and tribulations of single life, to one focused on an adult relationship that dared to offer a female point of view. Rich’s ambitious but risky endeavor paid off with the addition of Katie Findlay (The Killing) as Lucy, Josh’s new love interest and, over the course of the season, his eventual girlfriend, fiancée, and as the final episode depicted, his wife.
Findlay immediately proved adept at handling the various idiosyncrasies of the show’s sense of humor, shifting from a gender-flipped Walter White analogue to a Danny Ocean-like mastermind orchestrating a successful girls’ night out in the span of just a few episodes. It’s also to the credit of the Man Seeking Woman writers’ room that Lucy was not only successfully integrated into the show’s rather specific, unpredictable formula but that the character actually flourished immediately and felt essential. Right off the bat, the series gave Findlay a number of her own episodes, which she handled with aplomb, venturing into a take on Where the Wild Things Are that’s maybe just as universal as the original story, and again in ‘Pad Thai’ where a flirtation with an Indiana Jones proxy has her questioning her commitment to Josh.
The season 3 transformation of Man Seeking Woman proved to be as essential as the addition of Findlay, demonstrating a sense of progression in the series’ overarching narrative (and revealing that there actually was one) that also, as luck would have it, afforded it a chance to go out on an incredibly touching, emotionally fulfilling high note. Just after the season 3 premiere, Rich said his intention was to use the season’s arc to follow the young couple through the early stages of their relationship all the way down the aisle. Splitting the episode count between Josh and Lucy allowed each character to live and breathe within the framework of their burgeoning coupledom rather than limiting one to being solely defined by it. That meant, as the season moved on, Josh and Lucy’s relationship grew in a way that spoke as much to the evolution of the characters as it did to the evolution of the show.
The season 3 finale, ‘Blood’, ended with Josh and Lucy’s parents conspiring to make the young couple’s wedding day more traditional, formal, and less an expression of their youthful personalities and generational tastes. It included an appearance by God (played by Richard Kind) who tried to keep His cool when He wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the nuptials, which had been requisitioned at the last minute by the bride and groom as a way of demonstrating their ability to make decisions for themselves as a couple. As funny and touching as the wedding was, the finale saved the best for last, first with both sets of parents effectively setting their children free to fight their own battles, and again in the closing moments with Josh and Lucy kissing on the street, ensconced in a shaft of light as an apocalyptic storm raged around them. It was the perfect end to the season and, as it turns out now, the perfect end to the series.
Solving the dilemma described in the show’s title was a risky move for the series that may have meant Rich and his fellow writers were aware cancelation was on its way, or, knowing the show didn’t have great ratings, were simply preparing for the worst. While the progam earned high marks from critics, the size of its audience failed to reflect the praise it was given. Still, the series managed to go out on a creative high note, one that demonstrated the maturation of the show’s storytelling and a willingness to take chances for the sake of adding emotional weight to a familiar scenario. With its inimitable comedic proclivities, Man Seeking Woman could have continued on a journey of bad blind dates, exaggerated miscommunication, and perpetual heartbreak. Instead it found what it was looking for: something worth committing to.
Man Seeking Woman season 3 can be seen on the FX Now app.