Back in April, Hulu struck a gigantic deal and bought the rights for every episode of “Seinfeld.”
However, instead of spending all of that money, Hulu should have just waited another few months for the premiere of “Difficult People,” which is the next “Seinfeld.”
“Difficult People,” which was originally made for USA and produced by Amy Poehler, premiered on Hulu this week. While the streaming service has had a lot of original series already, this is their first one that truly stands out.
“Difficult People” follows best friends Julie Kessler (Julie Klausner) and Billy Epstein (Billy Eichner). Julie and Billy are aspiring comics who have both hit their 30s, and their wild dreams are starting to look bleaker and bleaker. By day, Billy is a waiter while Julie writes TV show recaps.
The two of them spend most of their time being mean to just about everybody else around them, barely even trying to mask their bitterness. And when they aren’t doing that, they are usually getting in array of pop culture oriented arguments that typically involve the show “Smash.”
“Difficult People” stomps on some well-worn sitcom territory. However, there are a lot of things that set “Difficult People” apart. First off, like “Seinfeld,” the show is self-aware enough to know that the heroes are huge jerks and because of that, they sometimes have to suffer the consequences.
The first episode of any show is an important way for the audience to get to know a show’s characters. The “Difficult People” pilot shows Billy and Julie running through crowds, just hoping everybody gets out of their way, as if they are the most important people in the world. They then meet up for a play where they yell at a mother and her kids. This happens in under five minutes of screen time.
It is possible that “Difficult People” could be off-putting to some. It is not because of the characters, as TV is now made up mostly of anti-heroes. The pop culture references here are so specific that even the most well-rounded person might not be able to keep up. Having the option to pause and rewind here helps, because you will likely be flipping back and forth to Wikipedia trying to figure out who Katharine McPhee is.
Yet, Klausner, who also created the show, does such a good job of inviting the audience into this very specific world. If you are familiar with Klausner at all from either her podcast “How Was Your Week?” or her tweets, then the show is kind of like interacting with the hilarious stream of consciousness that is her mind. Even down to the two basset hounds her character has on the show, “Difficult People” is a complete expression of all her interests.
Klausner and Eichner, who are best friends in real life, have such perfectly mean chemistry here, like a couple of schoolyard bullies except you can’t help but root for them because their insults are too funny and well constructed.
The two of them give great comedic performances that make the characters likable but maybe just through pure pity. The opening of the first episode has the two of them performing at a storytelling open mic, where they basically put the entire audience to sleep. From “Seinfeld” to “Louie,” there have been plenty of comedian’s shows with the main characters’ sets, but it is very rare that they actually have footage of them bombing.
Sure, we see how nasty they can be. But we are also with Julie and Billy through all their failures. Sometimes, it seems less like they are mean because they are mean people, and more because its their only defence mechanism. Between their constant tweeting and weird obssessions, this feeling of isolation is fairly universal and relatable.
“God I’m so funny when I write mean things about TV shows. How come nobody’s hired me to write for one?” Julie asks at one point.
“Because our lives are garbage and its the world’s fault?” Billy responds.
While Julie and Billy are the center of this universe, Klausner shines plenty of light on the strong supporting cast. This includes Andrea Martin as Julie’s neurotic mother, James Urbaniak as Julie’s boyfriend, who is often left behind in the wreckage of Julie’s bad decisions. Meanwhile, Gabourey Sidibe, best known for the stark drama of “Precious,” makes a welcome transition to the world of comedy.
Klausner and Eichner both come from an interesting comedy background that blurs the line between traditional and new. While Klausner has her podcast, Eichner gained fame from his pop culture man on the street game show “Billy On The Street,” which started as a Funny Or Die series before landing on Fuse and then truTV.
“Difficult People” pays a lot of respect to traditional sitcoms but it’s also a lot more laid back. Like some of the best podcasts out there, “Difficult People” feels like listening to two friends talk and bicker. The conversation feels like one big inside joke, but they let you in on it.
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