Normally, when a show makes a major addition to its cast or significant deviation from its usual way of doing things, such changes denote to the viewer that the modification(s) in question needed to happen, either to escape a narrative rut or to reclaim a creative joie de vivre that had gone missing after so many seasons on the air. Given that neither of those issues applies to FXX’s wonderfully surreal comedy Man Seeking Woman, the addition of The Killing‘s Katie Findlay to the cast as Lucy Parker, the soon-to-be (hopefully more) permanent romantic interest to Jay Baruchel’s titular woman-seeking man, stands as a testament to the show’s inventiveness.
Findlay brings more than just another name to the show’s core cast of Baruchel, Eric Andre, and Britt Lower. Her presence upends the usual conventions of the series – not so much in terms of format but rather perspective. It’s a remarkable shift, as it transforms a series primarily about a single man looking for love – and told largely from that particular perspective – into one about a couple, doing their best to navigate the uncharted waters of an increasingly committed relationship. As an added degree of difficulty, Man Seeking Woman choses to occasionally shift its focus from Baruchel’s Josh to Lucy, effectively bringing her into the fold by hastily promoting her to co-lead.
The premiere begins with an exploration of Lucy’s day-to-day life, exploring a series of tribulations through the same surreal lens the series typically explores Josh’s existence, and the results are immediately charming. Findlay demonstrates the same sort of flexibility in her performance as Baruchel, moving easily through a range of emotions (and different characters) as a way of demonstrating that Lucy contains multitudes, without losing track of who she is fundamentally. The effect, then, grants the series freedom to offer Baruchel a pinch hitter of sorts, alleviating the need for him to be present in almost every scene, while also negating any concern that the show has strayed too far from its original conceit.
But the advantage of bringing Findlay onboard is greater than simply deviating from the Josh-centric storyline from time to time – which the series has done successfully in the past by focusing episodes on Mike (Andre) or, better yet, those centered entirely on Josh’s sister Liz (Lower). It offers a chance to examine the same issues and problems and motivations that already drive the series, but through a refreshingly different lens. The Liz-centric episodes work in large part because of how dramatically different they are and how focused they remain on a single oddity – e.g., Liz’s struggles dating a boring guy (a robot) or carrying on an affair with a married man (Santa Claus). But Lucy’s surreal adventures hew closer to the experiences the show draws for Josh. Her introduction alone – catching fire, being attacked by a puma in her office, etc. – could have been his, but Findlay offers subtle differences in her performance that make Lucy’s personal account wholly original without fundamentally altering the show’s narrative landscape. And that makes a difference, because the series isn’t interested in transforming itself into Woman Seeking Man. Instead, it’s more focused on transitioning from an examination of the toilsome aspects of single life to one that’s about love blossoming into something more serious.
Seeing an overarching storyline stretched out over the course of an entire season is in keeping with the changes the show made in season 2. Though always something of a surreal sketch comedy series, Man Seeking Woman integrated a serialized structure during its second go-round, seeing Josh and Mike become interested in the same woman (The Maze Runner‘s Rosa Salazar), which allowed the show to make some surprising and thoughtful departures from the hilariously nightmarish world of modern dating. The success of those alterations appear to have inspired the show’s writers to take greater storytelling risks, which, considering the series’ format, seems like a no-brainer as its ability to shift between reality and surrealism practically demands such challenges in order to stay fresh.
Mostly, though, the success of season 3’s adjustments comes down to the chemistry between Baruchel and Findlay. The two make for a charming and believable couple, and given their how quickly the show works to integrate Lucy into Josh’s life, and to reposition her as not just another in a long line of girlfriends but as the series’ co-lead, their assured performances go a long way in making the transition work while also upping the entertainment value. The premiere packs such a tremendous amount into the season’s first half-hour, first introducing Lucy, then using her roommates turning Josh’s constant presence into an allegory for immigration. And yet the episode still finds time to make a solid Jonestown joke as a way to confront Josh’s frustrations with the changes Lucy has introduced, and her insecurity and desire for approval from the very friends who rejected Josh in the first place.
But as the premiere demonstrates, change happens fast and those in the middle of it are often left wondering what the heck just happened. It’s likely that ‘Futon’ will generate similar feelings amongst the show’s audience. Those sentiments are sure to be assuaged as the series moves forward and vacillates its focus between Josh and Lucy, further solidifying the transition from an analysis of the ups and downs of single life to one that aims to explore the same rollercoaster ride that is coupledom. Like its characters, the show isn’t changing so much as it’s moving forward. Man Seeking Woman‘s hilariously odd sensibilities are still firmly in place. Now there’re just more of them to love.
Man Seeking Woman continues next Wednesday with ‘Ranch’ @10:30pm on FXX.