When “Man Seeking Woman” first premiered on FXX, the comedy immediately revealed itself as full of imagination and wit, but also had a somewhat myopic focus on the dating life of Josh (Jay Baruchel). In the penultimate episode of Season 1, though, that changed. “Teacup,” Episode 9, flipped the point of view to Josh’s sister Liz (Britt Lower), whose struggle to find love takes a very different path. Why make the switch? Indiewire spoke with creator Simon Rich to find out, as well what will and won’t shift for Season 2.
First, congrats on the Season 2 pickup.
Thanks so much. We’re so excited to make more.
Since last we talked, the show seems to have built a real following.
Yeah, it’s so gratifying when people say they relate to the show. When they watch it and see certain situations and say, “Hey, you know, I’ve been there.” For us, that’s just the highest compliment.
Is there anything you learned from watching the reaction to Season 1 that you’re going to apply to Season 2?
Oh yeah, I think we learned a ton. And I think I learned a ton personally. It’s my first time running a show, I think I learned a lot and still have a lot to learn. My favorite episodes are towards the end of the season, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I think we really grew a lot as a writing staff and as a team and I’m really thrilled with how the season ended up.
What is something specific you took away from this first season?
We learned a lot about the realities of a four-and-a-half day shoot. Coming from “SNL,” the longest pre-taped filmed segment was a three or four minute commercial parody. I definitely did a lot of learning on the job. We’re dealing with a 21-minute episode, which is a tall order. But luckily I had a lot of help from our brilliant directors [Jonathan] Krisel and Ben Berman and Tim Kirkby, so luckily I wasn’t going into these a lot of those sets alone.
I know you don’t want to give specifics about what you’re actually going to do, but whenever you’re starting a new season there are two potential directions. You can try to top what you did last season or try a different approach and focus on character. Which way are you going?
I think every strong show — with all my favorite shows — the characters get richer and increasingly three-dimensional-ized as the seasons progress. Even in the first season of our show, I hope that the characters became increasingly fleshed out as the episodes went on. I think [Episode 9] is an example of that. In the pilot, we know very little about Liz and by the end of it, we’ll have a much better understanding of what makes her tick. So yeah, I’m really excited at the chance to develop these characters further. But the focus will continue to be on absurd madcap premises. This will always be a premise-driven show.
Going to the Liz episode, at what point in the writing process did you know you wanted to have an entire episode devoted to her?
That was the first idea I had, probably. I always knew it would be fun to talk about dating from a different point of view. The way the show is constructed, you’re so locked down into Josh’s experience. I always thought it would be interesting and useful to show dating from another angle.
So that was the very first idea you had?
Yeah, we always knew we were going to do “Woman Seeking Man,” and it would be late in the season. But a lot of work went into figuring out exactly what that episode would look like. And I’m glad we didn’t write it early. I’m glad we saved it for the end because it allowed us to take advantage all the things we learned about Liz’s character by the end of the season. A lot of the credit, most of the credit for the episode goes to Sofia Alvaraz, but Britt [Lower] also deserves a lot of credit, because she brought a lot of creative work to that as well.
So doing it late in the season really helped you, in terms of knowing a lot about her character. But as the penultimate episode, how do you feel like it affects the show’s flow?
It’s my hope that it provides a nice break from Josh’s slog through life. The character of Josh has a number of major flaws, but his biggest flaw is how self-absorbed he is. He’s so neurotic and whiny. And every single minor problem for him is an enormous calamity. The show is always trying to give Josh a little perspective and satirize his point of view. And I think 109 is probably our bluntest example of that. It literally starts off with Josh complaining about how hard it is to be a man, which of course is a silly thing to complain about given the extreme gender imbalance in this world. The episode is kind of devoted to proving that Josh’s POV is wrong.
I loved that as a starting point. It was a great way to frame it.
Yeah, and it was so fun to shoot and Britt did such an amazing job taking over as the star of the show for a week. And Jay was so gracious about letting her jump into the driver’s seat. He also needed a break physically. It’s such a grueling show for him. He’s in every scene. We don’t have any B-plots on the show. It’s all Jay, all the time. It was nice to give him a chance to sleep for a night or two.
So he was really excited about this episode, then?
Yeah, he was thrilled. And it was so exciting for everybody to shift gears for a week and make a completely different show.
I don’t want to make you speak for Sofia, the writer, but I know that when we spoke in January you said a lot of this came from personal experience. So I was wondering; is there a specific person Liz is based on? Is that person Sofia? Or is the character more an amalgam?
I think that all the episodes are really personal for all of us. I know that sounds like a cop out, but it’s true. We try to draw on our personal lives when shaping the stories and premises. We try to only pitch premises that are universal and relatable to everyone. For example, in 109, feeling left out, feeling like you’re falling behind in life and that your peers are speeding off ahead of you and feeling peer pressure to be further along in the dating race… I think that’s a pressure that most people have felt at some point in their lives whether they’re male, female, gay, straight. So even though “Woman Seeking Man” is obviously a female-centric episode, and it’s about the plight of the female character, I like to think that — like in “Man Seeking Woman” — all the premises within it are relatable to everyone.
Were there other shows that inspired you to take on this shift in point of view?
Oh totally, yeah. I remember there’s a “South Park” episode that really shocked me, when the whole “South Park” gang didn’t make an appearance. Also I got to see a really early episode, the Hannibal Burress-hosted episode of “The Eric Andre Show.” We already knew that we were going to do “Woman Seeking Man” by the time we saw that, but I just thought it was interesting that we thought of the same gimmick.
And then I think “The Simpsons” is obviously the godfather of shifting perspective. They take minor characters and give them meaning. They not only give them entire backstories but give them entire episodes and have been doing that from the get-go. You never would expect a character like Moe, who was basically invented as a foil for Bart’s prank phone calls, to end up having some of the most emotionally resonant episodes in the series’ history. That’s the kind of show “The Simpsons” is; they’re always looking at things from as many angles as possible. That’s why it’s my favorite show. So there are a lot of analogues. And like I said our show is so Josh-centric form the get go, so it was especially important for us to depart from that in a pretty major way.
I think it’s pretty telling, that two of the examples you mentioned are very broad cartoons.
Yeah, that was always our goal, to try to do a live action show that was as absurdist and surreal as our favorite cartoon shows and our favorite sketch shows. Shows like “Mr. Show.” “Mr. Show” has at least one episode where either Bob [Odenkirk] or David [Cross] is replaced — I forget which one, I believe it’s David — but yeah, it’s always fun. Not only is it a fun new type of show, but it can give you more perspective on your main character. One of the things I love about “Woman Seeking Man” is that yes, of course, it gives us new insight into Liz’s plight. But it also helps us understand Josh a little bit more, and I think it helps Josh to understand himself a little bit more. Hopefully by the end of the episode, he’s learned a tiny little bit of perspective.
When the news broke about Season 2, there was a lot of talk about how the show is the first to be developed specifically for FXX. What does it mean to have been developed for FXX, as opposed to another network?
Well, I feel incredibly lucky that they gave us the opportunity to take so many wild risks this season, and I don’t think there’s anybody else that would have given us as much creative freedom. So it’s really been a dream come true, from start to finish, and they’ve helped us so much and supported us so much.
And on a personal level I’m just delighted and overjoyed to be surrounded by so many “Simpsons” reruns. I just can’t even tell you how moving it is and surreal and amazing it is to have my show next to “The Simpsons” on the TV guide. It’s staggering for me. “The Simpsons” is not only my favorite show of all time, but one of the most important things in my whole life. So I’m thrilled that I’m on the same channel as a whole mess of “Simpsons.”