Lunchtable TV Talk: Difficult People & Casual

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In typical gluttonous fashion (for me), I inhaled all of the first seasons of both Difficult People and Casual within the last week (among other things). My conclusion, at first, was that Hulu is the platform for “bad humans” – the unlikable, negative, snarky types that we imagine we ourselves are not but enjoying watching in others (as long as they are not real and in our own daily lives). We enjoy seeing both their snark and sarcasm (which seems funny and sometimes smart/incisive) but also their failures and falls (which seems both relatable and also a-long-time-coming for people who are so unpleasant). I’d include The Mindy Project in this Hulu-based conglomeration of self-centered character comedy (even if I would not call all these things strictly comedy, and even though Mindy started on network TV, was canceled and snapped up by Hulu, which has arguably improved the show, in my opinion). But then I would be remiss if I did not state that Hulu isn’t the exclusive refuge of damaged-people comedramedy. You can get your fill of that kind of stuff all over the place – You’re the Worst is probably the best example, and one of the endurance runners (it’s back with its third season at the end of August). These kinds of shows take a while to catch on, if they do at all. This might be why they find their homes on non-network platforms, like Hulu.

These initial impressions, though, aren’t quite the whole picture. It’s a pretty obvious statement, but people are rarely, if ever, just bad, negative, bitter, cruel, difficult to the core just because they can be. Our protagonists in Difficult People clearly have family issues, and when we see how these unfold, we can see why the main characters are as damaged and making-light-of-it as they are/do. I watched Difficult People and enjoyed it (but was perhaps not as enamored of it as I should have been because I was also defrosting my freezer at the same time, which should have been an hour-long job that turned into an eight-hour ordeal). I guess it’s not necessary to be able to relate to the characters for a show to be good or enough – for example, on some abstract level I could relate to ‘protagonist’ Julie’s neuroses and self-involvement after seeing her mother. But real people, were Julie real, might gain some self-awareness from this kind of thing. She might not go on to railroad and take for granted her long-suffering, PBS-employee boyfriend, Arthur (the brilliant James Urbaniak). (I could be wrong, of course – I have plenty of acquaintances who are completely blind and lacking in self-awareness.)

Her best friend, Billy (our other ‘protagonist’) is the only person she confides in, does not take for granted, never criticizes, is supportive of… and there is some relatability in that, but not enough.

For me, the first season of Difficult People was quite entertaining, but ‘not enough’, which is not the most descriptive or resounding praise. It had a few twists that showed real glimmers of satisfying brilliance (for example, the dog-park con, the child menu restaurant, simultaneously breaking into the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme song, which is fitting considering that the show is a nod to Curb’s misanthropy). Despite not being quite enough in its first act, I am looking forward to seeing what its second act offers.

I expected Casual to be something along the same lines – comedy with a dash of humanity, all mixed up with some snarky sarcasm and unpleasant people. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was not what I expected. At the risk of sounding hokey, I found myself moved in one way or another in almost every episode in Casual’s first season.

I, like most, had only seen Michaela Watkins, one of the series’ leads, in comedic and mostly in roles as the crazy/annoying/weird neighbor/ex-wife, etc. I’d never seen her be a lead, much less in a semi-dramatic role. She brings a sense of reality and vulnerability to the role of Valerie; you like her even when she’s making a mess of things and root for her, knowing what she has been through. She is very human, very feeling, eminently fallible, but always doing her best. In Casual, we meet Valerie just after her divorce (her husband has cheated on her with a younger woman, and Watkins channels just the right amount of pain-as-bitterness to reflect this), when she and her teenage daughter, Laura, have moved in with Valerie’s brother, Alex. Both Valerie and Alex are successful people, but their personal and emotional lives are a mess; it’s clear that they have a very close sibling relationship and, as becomes clear over the course of the first series, have had to rely on each other thanks to their flaky non-parenting parents.

Casual made me laugh, actually made me cry a couple of times, and on the whole, was enough because it spoke to me on many levels, because it had a bittersweet quality to it, because it could embrace cynicism without being caustic, because it was imperfect and still beautiful.

Random Gum: Summer 2016 soundtrack

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Random Gum – Summer 2016 soundtrack: Alive and Kicking
Latent Love and the Pre-Internet Days

The whole playlist (minus the songs that don’t exist on Spotify…) on Spotify.

01. Simple Minds – “Alive and Kicking” …now it’s all or nothing/cause you said you follow through…

Appeared twice in the same week on primetime TV (The Goldbergs & Fresh Off the Boat), proving 80s/90s nostalgia is alive and kicking – Simple Minds and John Hughes, always leading the charge. For S, for Amber

02. Vorderhaus – “Stepping Off the Ghost Train” …You tell yourself you’re in love/I tell myself I don’t care/I’m stepping off the ghost train/I’m tired of loving you in vain…

03. INXS – “Never Tear Us Apart” …but if I hurt you, I’ll make wine from your tears…

A cover version of this with female vocal (Paloma Faith) appeared in L&O SVU and made me think of the original, and of the domino-like tragedy of HutchenceYatesGeldof. And after the “Alive and Kicking” appearances I also thought of former best friend Terra and her junior high crush on INXS’s Jon Farriss. She had gone to spend the summer in Aberdeen (Scotland, not WA), dreamt Farriss died and had written me a letter (yes – a real letter, as this all happened in the 1987-8 world before the internet) describing the nightmare, to which I replied, “Don’t worry – he’s alive… and kicking!” Which was only funny at all because INXS’s hit album was called KICK. For Terra. For S.

04. John Grant – “Geraldine” …we’re not like them, we’re not that strong/at least that’s what they have been telling us all along…

The gorgeousness of John Grant continues.

05. The War on Drugs – “Under the Pressure” …When it all breaks down and we’re runaways/Standing in the wake of our pain…

06. Glenn Frey – “The Heat is On”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCoP2W4v2v8
This has been a particularly rough year so far for musical deaths. I’m no Glenn Frey/Eagles fan, but this song plays into 1980s memories as well as a more recent vignette when two of my colleagues and I took our young Spanish intern to lunch for his birthday, and he commented on how I can possibly wear dresses in the cold, and I replied, “In the office, the heat is on…” The three of us old lady colleagues, in unison, burst into song, ‘The heat is on…’, which perplexed the youthful Spaniard.

07. AaRON – “U-Turn (Lili)” …you know there’s still a place for people like us…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTKfrY4cQ9I
Many thanks to my colleague, Laurent. This popped up at a time that everyone and everything seemed to be named Aaron, and as Key & Peele ended on Comedy Central, and I inhaled all five seasons in a few days, and keep going back to the “Substitute Teacher” clip in which the sub pronounces it, “A-A-Ron”.

08. Beach House – “Days of Candy” …I know it comes too soon/The universe is riding off with you…

09. David Bowie – “Sound & Vision”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WoDamvrfUbQ
I’ve never experienced anything like the collective outpouring of shared grief and mourning for a public figure – and felt a part of it – the way I did when Bowie unexpectedly died in January 2016. I had never been a huge fan, but his departure felt like the dimming of a bright light that guided our path through the modern cultural landscape. For weeks afterward, I cried if I listened to him (which I could not stop doing) or thought about him. In the end, mortality will come for the flesh, but the work, voice, sound and vision live forever.

10. Lush – “Lovelife” …in your concrete arms I adore you…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYzfT1zmAGg
Celebrating the resurrection of Lush, their 2016 tour and (possibly) seeing them in London in May (which, sadly, I could not). For all my Lush-loving friends (too numerous to count!). “Every door conceals a dream and a nightmare…”

11. Karen Elson – “Who’s Sorry Now?”

12. The Chills – “Soft Bomb Part One” …I’m tearing all my hair out with my hands/I know what they will never understand…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KdI_xhB7bgY
For all the New Zealand-leaning ambitions and longing. For all the NZ friends (Trevor, Kimberley, Dan, Lauren)…

13. Los Blenders – “TJTQ”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXPvHOJFSWk
Tijuana! For Martina, as everything Mexican is.

14. Tennis – “Mean Streets” …Stay on your own/Or leave it alone…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ei2gXl203w
For Esteban and Ana, fellow Tennis fans.

15. KC & the Sunshine Band – “Boogie Shoes”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6m47EQtAMzI
I don’t know how this fits into the soundtrack, really. I watched a documentary about the 1970s and thought we could use a pause here to groove on the decade

16. 88 ULTRA – “Oceans”

17. Christine and the Queens – “No Harm is Done” …I can follow/Wanna take the lead/but I roam all alone/With a heart so hollow…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQ6FYytu1pM
With more thanks to Laurent.

18. Damon Albarn – “Heavy Seas of Love”

19. The Ink Spots – “I’ll Get By”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dh4YlBKNZso
For S the Firewall

20. Elvis Costello – “Sweet Pear” …But there’s a void without your kiss/I wake on the precipice above the abyss/And though the touch of your lips these fears dismiss/Make no mistake there is an ache I have to live with…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQ9bVpGLego
“Was my grip too loose, my grip too strong/That made you want to run away/And now you’re back where I pretend you belong/I wonder every night and day, how long?” For Roberto.

21. Dom La Nena – “Saudade” …E onde é que foi que vi voar aquele beija flor/Onde esta agora os restos de um amor que machucou/E o tempo passou, você não mudou/A quanto tempo foi que você não voltou…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OG8cpJCl7Mk
Brasil, so much in the news, so much in the thoughts, this year.

22. Soapkills – “Wadih”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JoLA1tCLcBI
Many thanks to Aurélien and Catherine.

23. Sleeper – “What Do I Do Now?” …is there someone else, am I too familiar, was it when I said I wanted to have children…?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSe3dV7dPYw
I’ve always preferred Elvis Costello’s slower, sadder recording of this song. Every time I hear it, it seems to take on new depth and meaning. “What do I do now? Are we going under? What did I do wrong? I thought we had it sorted out the other day. Maybe I’m just stupid. Thought we’d try again. No one told me it was raining.”

24. Linda Mirada – “Lío en Río”

25. Crystal Castles – “Plague”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cx2lJIOTBjs
For and thanks to Roxane.

26. Saint Motel – “A Quick One While He’s Away” …It’s like a dream to be with you again…

27. Townes van Zandt – “Waitin’ Around to Die” …sometimes I don’t know where this dirty road is taking me…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbsMn476T2U
Never get enough of Townes. “Now I’m outta prison, got me a friend that lasts. Well he don’t drink or steal or cheat or lie, well, his name’s codeine, he’s the nicest thing I’ve seen, yeah, together we’re gonna wait around and die.”

28. Psycho Killer – “Road to Nowhere”
Stuff like this (the original anyway, and the Talking Heads in general) and The Pretenders – stuff I could not appreciate until on the cusp of being “aged” like cheese or wine.

29. Tom Jones – “The Young New Mexican Puppeteer”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XvQHt5t7zkg
Of course I’m inspired by Martina (another Mexican thing) here and how kind of comical this song is, but also thinking of multiple discussions on the dislike for Welsh people (haha) and the recent passing of Tom Jones’s wife (RIP).

30. Salt Petal – “Cumbia de Billinghurst”

31. Wall of Voodoo – “Mexican Radio” …No comprende/it’s a riddle…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eyCEexG9xjw
For Martina. “I wish I was in Tijuana/eating barbecued iguana”

32. Telefon Tel Aviv – “Helen of Troy” …Your face is the place/where it ends…

33. Clan of Xymox – “A Day”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OiJ3KU0bme0
This certainly takes me back in time.

34. Ezra Furman – “Body Was Made” …Your body is yours at the end of the day
and don’t let the hateful try and take it away…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rkEkjxX_YrM
Had not heard so much saxophone in a long time, and stumbled on this right after having multiple conversations about how the name “Ezra” isn’t one you hear often.

35. Lush & Jarvis Cocker – “Ciao!” …life is wonderful now that I’m rid of you…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-0Jvo5_IrlI
This is 1996 for me, two of my favorites of the time, trying to break away from the grip of shitty relationships that seem to be the telltale sign of young adulthood.

36. Count Five – “Psychotic Reaction”

37. Mashrou’Leila – “Imm El Jacket”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsablD8vu0w
Thanks to Aurélien and Catherine.

38. Eddie Rabbitt – “Drivin’ My Life Away”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_tvEvBUG8mY
Music my mom listened to a lot when my brother and I were children. My brother had an angry-looking, fluffy blue stuffed rabbit he named “Eddie Rabbit” thanks to our exposure to this. Wondering what happened to the little rabbit, as I made some of my last long-haul drives in the middle of the night between home & Gothenburg.

39. Irma Thomas – “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)”

40. Townes van Zandt – “Be Here to Love Me”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6NPj9M_p20
“Your eyes seek conclusion in all this confusion of mine/though you and I both know it’s only the warm glow of wine/that’s got you to feeling this way/but I don’t care I want you to stay/hold me and tell me you’ll be here to love me today”

41. Bertrand Belin – “Je parle en fou”

42. John Grant – “Down Here”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eViyPYJ2okc
“Cause what we got down here is oceans of longing/And guessing games, and no guarantees/And you work so hard to be in control/And now you’re laughing at yourself because you can’t let go”. For Roberto.

43. Still Corners – “Beginning to Blue”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TgEB3rY8ZGI
Lovely song anyway but its placement in the stunning second season of You’re the Worst, when you’re hit with the realization that the main character is descending into a deep, dark depression was perfect.

44. Philip Selway – “Coming Up for Air”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMxXmW1pqeU
For Kyle. “You hafta come up for aih(s) sometime”. Ugh/puke.

45. Robyn Hitchcock – “1974” …And as Nixon left the White House you could hear people say/’they’ll never rehabilitate that mother, no way’…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YVDDXFpVjNU
Robyn is just a magnificent storyteller, master of verbal imagery and a genius. Love! If “Boogie Shoes” was a grooveable 70s moment, this is a philosophical rumination on that ruinous and ugly decade.

46. Elvis Costello – “What Do I Do Now?”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VuJJBJHDUcY
Had to include this version, too, of course.

47. Alex Vargas – “Till Forever Runs Out”

48. The Cure – “A Strange Day” …Held for one moment I remember a song/An impression of sound/Then everything is gone/Forever…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4mym0EFKM8
For Gary, with whom it’s great to be back in contact. Here’s to the best moments of our teenage years.

49. New Edition – “Cool It Now”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZUq6N7Gx1c
I remember enjoying this video as a little kid – and then the tune turned up in the soundtrack to Master of None and I just had to include it.

50. Happyness – “Montreal Rock Band Somewhere”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hcwZ9EptZs
“What do you do when you hate all your friends?”

51. Tobias Jesso Jr – “Without You”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ybYYKBd_40
“I can hardly breathe without you/There is no future I want to see without you/I just don’t know who I would be without you/There is nothing out there for me without you…”

52. Koudlam – “See You All”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYu3Y7JT810
I don’t know why, but this song is the right one for walking through the city and waiting in queues.

53. bigott – “Baby Lemonade”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=So7IharnjCs
“Like in the movies, she wake up dreaming/nothing is hiding/if you can find it…”

54. Giant Sand – “Stranded Pearl” …every girl is like a pearl/hearts strung along and then left stranded…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcUKHnrTXzg
A great, visual, wordy song. “I lost me my eye in a battle/went there to rattle their cage/lost sight of the big picture/now this permanent fixture is my rage”. (Made me think a bit at the end of a Derek Walcott poem, “Codicil”, which ends, “All its indifference is a different rage.”)

55. The Staves – “Black & White”

56. Jordie Lane – “Fell Into Me”
Sounds very reminiscent of Neil Finn. Thanks to Nicki.

57. Ra Ra Riot – “Foreign Lovers”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unmaQzVS9lw
“Well the one in Chicago wasn’t there anymore, and because that thing in Berlin wasn’t anyone’s fault… I got no idea what’s fair but I knew before – you got foreign lovers”. An insanely fitting song, stumbled on by accident. All the foreign lovers (and hilarious that Chicago and Berlin are the cities referenced…).

58. Niyaz – “Beni Beni”

59. Jaakko Eino Kalevi – “No End” …I guess it’s useless to say/I want you to stay…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HT6dDiQBPPI
The Guardian described Jaakko thusly: “tram driver in Helsinki by day, weird-pop maestro by night”.

60. All We Are – “Keep Me Alive” …I hear nothing at all but your breathing…

61. Fairport Convention – “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?”

As an adolescent, my friend Terra and I ‘discovered’ Fairport Convention, and it’s still something nice to listen to. When I listened to this again and reflected on the time that’s passed by since we were friends, and particularly since we were close and finding new music together, the song was particularly poignant and bittersweet.

62. Núria Graham – “Dark Past” …everybody’s got a dark past/but mine is just about to start…

63. David Bowie – “Cat People” … Just be still with me/You wouldn’t believe what I’ve been through…

64. Cousteau – “Last Good Day of the Year”

“When the summer’s light is fragrant/with scents of returning/you relent, you resent, now you’re burning/for nothing to change…”

65. Wire – “German Shepherds” …it’s beginning to and back again…

Song title made me think, in a very roundabout way, of the Paris attacks of November 2015. Following the attacks, the French government went on the offensive and a Belgian shepherd (like the one in the TV show Person of Interest) was killed during a raid, prompting the Russians to give a new dog to the French. Hmm. Then in March, of course, Belgium fell victim to yet another terror attack.

66. Pet Shop Boys – “Love is a Bourgeois Construct”

No sentiment could be truer. November 2015, driving around downtown Tacoma, with thanks to my brother, Kyle, on relationships: “That phase of my life is over.”

67. Vorderhaus – “Venus in Retrograde” …how do you really love/the truth is happening/it’s venus in retrograde/the dark affair within…
You know you want more: https://soundcloud.com/vorderhaus/

68. Townes van Zandt – “For the Sake of the Song” …nothing’s what it seems/maybe she’ll start someday to realize/if she abandons her dreams/then all the words she can say are only lies/when will she see that the gain is only to lose/all that she offers me are chains/and I got to refuse…

For ML. “Maybe she just has to sing for the sake of the song/who do I think that I am to decide that she’s wrong?”

69. The Paris Sisters – “I Love How You Love Me”

Dreamy.

70. Blur, Françoise Hardy – “To the End”

71. Primal Scream – “I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have” …I betrayed you, you trusted me, and I betrayed you…

Sometimes you realize that even when something is ostensibly done, you cannot fully move forward until you have let go completely of past things and people. The sad reminder of the last conversation, last realization/S.

72. Amanda Bergman – “Vintersaga”

For many reasons I put this here – it’s a Swedish story full of Swedish place, but it is also choice for its connection to dear Andreas, the value of musical recommendations, and to our many talks about ad copy and the fraudulent feeling of writing stuff without meaning, pop culture stuffing of ads & such.

73. David Bowie – “Where Are We Now?”

Constant striving for Berlin, which represents a constant striving for change.

74. Prince & the Revolution – “When Doves Cry”

What can I even say? If Bowie was a loss and a shock, the loss of Prince was an even greater shock. For me, Prince is always freshest, best and alive in the Purple Rain period. I fell in love with the first time I heard this one as a child. RIP.

75. Johnny Cash – “The Beast in Me”

A fitting ending, in many ways. For S. “God help the beast in me.”

Lunchtable TV Talk – The Best at Year End

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Call me crazy, call me lazy, call me ambitious… but whatever you call me, I have seriously seen all of 30 of 35 of the shows in this best-of-2015 rundown. And the writer is right on the money about everything in the list – at least of the things I have seen. I’m not big on animation, which is ultimately why I haven’t seen stuff like Bob’s Burgers (it is in my Netflix queue) or Rick and Morty. I tried to watch Review but could never find it to see. And I had never really thought of The 100. I admit that I don’t even know what it’s about.

Unfortunately I am too tired to dream up a list of what else is out there that didn’t make the list … nothing likely tops the Vox list – it includes some of my favorites, even the almost-never-watched stuff like Manhattan (which came into its own in a big way in the second season), The Knick, You’re the Worst, The Leftovers, and Rectify. Even Justified made the list.

What strikes me as weird is that I somehow managed to watch all 30 shows, and that is not even the tip of the iceberg in terms of the things I have watched this year. It’s usually on in the background, but still… so.much.tv.

Lunchtable TV Talk: You’re the Worst – Don’t Give Up

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Surprised by the first season of You’re the Worst, in which two unpleasant people – but still somehow, sometimes, likable in their vulnerability – fall in love, I looked forward to the second season. It began a few weeks ago, and at first, I was a bit disappointed. There were episodes that seemed to try too hard, in which things were neither funny nor thoughtful. The only thread that seemed to be woven, subtly, through the season was Gretchen’s increasingly irregular behavior. This is revealed to be a downward spiral into clinical depression, and this is where the story came together once again. Oddly, the seemingly disconnected nature of the story to the point that Gretchen’s behavior was explained all led somewhere – but so subtly.

The most recent week’s episode, in which Gretchen starts stalking a couple that looks perfect and idyllic to her from the outside, and insinuates herself into their life, only to discover that she’d bought into an illusion, was sublime. Gretchen is almost manic in her shift from elation at witnessing this couple and connecting with them (she seems to find a naive hope in what she perceives as their happiness) to being visibly crestfallen when the man in the couple (played by an always amazing Justin Kirk) starts confessing – spewing, even – his discontent. The look on Gretchen’s face, expressing this dawning and deepening disappointment, is bewitching in its reality and relatability. As Gretchen and Jimmy leave, Jimmy totally oblivious, rambling in his careless and carefree way, he does not even notice as Gretchen silently falls apart.

It was unbelievably touching in the sense that… well, I think we’ve all been there if we’ve ever found ourselves depressed on any level. And as much as I don’t like Gretchen most of the time, she made me feel for her.

Lunchtable TV Talk: People meet… what comes next?

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With the ever-expanding variety of TV-style content available at the ready, old themes are taking on new polish. It’s no secret that storytelling is becoming more nuanced and diverse, and storytellers are becoming freer to tell their stories without the constraints of things like network TV schedules and limitations, demands for typical romantic sitcom tropes or pandering to certain audience demographics. Within this landscape, different kinds of romantic comedies are finding their “hour upon the loom of days” (cannot resist, however inappropriate the tone, an Ezra Pound reference…).

In the middle of these emotional days, I watched the widely praised little comedy, Catastrophe, which chronicles the accidental relationship borne of an accidental pregnancy resulting from a casual one-week fling. The couple decide to make a go of it, with the American half of the couple moving to London to pursue a relationship with the Irish woman he’s knocked up. I won’t heap rosy praise on it (other viewers have done this enough), but I will concede that it can be quite funny and “real” in ways that most sitcoms laboring under this premise could not be.

Given my state of mind, though, it mostly made me sad and reflective. Thinking about how people meet and what propels their relationships forward. How is it that they decide, “This is what I want. This is the person I want to be with”? It would be easy to say that the characters here chose to be together only because the woman was pregnant, neither party to the couple is particularly young and perhaps neither felt they had much to lose. The show did a good job at making the relationship feel more deliberate than that by highlighting the doubts and fears the characters felt – particularly the woman. The man seems quite sure (and reassuring) and never strays from this underlying conviction, even when friends, family and circumstance try to convince him otherwise.

Perhaps it was his commitment and willingness to work at it and to “put up or shut up”, in a sense, that struck me.

Overall, Catastrophe, despite having a few semi-crass jokes and whatnot, is sweet and gives the viewer a palette on which it creates two whole, three-dimensional adults who find themselves in a surprising situation. How people deal with the unplanned is telling.

The unplanned and unpleasant drives another surprisingly sweet (and short) sitcom, Scrotal Recall, which, despite its raunchy name, is both worth watching and not at all what you think it is. It follows (without bothering about chronology) the story of a guy who discovers he has an STI and needs to inform all his previous sex partners. The show finds its comedy not just in the awkwardness of trying to break the news (“Hey, sorry you’ve not heard from me in a year, but congrats! You may have chlamydia!”) but in the retelling of the stories that led the character to get into all these sexual situations in the first place. Bubbling along in parallel with these flashbacks is the ongoing, years-long tension between the main character and his friend/roommate (the old story about close friends of the opposite sex – one has a crush on the other but is scared to say or one of them has a relationship already so the timing is off… and the timing always seems to be off. It’s another version of Ross and Rachel but … cuter and less important to the storytelling). In fact, Vox compares the show to How I Met Your Mother without the irritating pomposity of Ted and without the sociopathic tendencies of Barney. I agree but add that it is much more relatable and less formulaic, and actually, in its own slightly bumbling way, quite sweet.

While this pair of sitcoms (both with roots in the UK) resides at the “sweet/nice” end of the spectrum, it stands to reason that there would be similarly angled sitcoms at the other end. That is, sitcoms that go against the grain, challenge one’s perception of a “relationship” or “dating” comedy. (This does not take into account recent takes on the ennui of marriage, such as Togetherness or Married, neither of which is perfect but both of which finally do away with some of the stupid/schlub husband + hot wife making fun of him trope that has long populated the mainstream TV landscape.)

Perhaps most routinely misanthropic and sometimes annoying but nevertheless funny and human is You’re the Worst, in which two young… let’s call a spade a spade here… assholes hook up after getting drunk at a wedding. They are both firmly convinced that they are not relationship material, commitment phobic and perfectly happy with a casual, no-strings setup. But most of the first season is spent making us – and them – realize that they’ve been wrong. It’s a little bit cliche when you write down the premise, but the execution makes it what it is. I honestly did not think I would like it. The advertising I saw surrounding the show struck me a lot like the Comedy Central advertising for Broad City and Inside Amy Schumer. The ads made these shows look offensively bad (not in a good way), while in fact, both are genius. You’re the Worst won’t make any “genius” lists, but despite it being ages ago that I consumed the first season, I remember a few gems that pulled me in – from the Phil “Groovy” Collins v Peter Gabriel argument between the show’s leads to the “Sunday Funday” (although if I recall these were in the same episode, and I think the guy who plays Pied Piper CEO Richard in the brilliant Silicon Valley plays one of the poseur-follower idiots copying the Sunday Funday). At its heart, the show does display two people who are actually the worst (you would hate these people if you knew them in real life) but find each other, defend each other, fall in love with each other… and I suppose that things boil down to that kind of cliche. We go through life hoping to find that person we can relate to, be completely our ugly selves with and land, as someone once said to me in better times, “land in the tall grass”.

On an entirely different plane, particularly as it borrows liberally from fantasy and the grotesque rather than grounding itself in reality, Man Seeking Woman explores the dating life of a single guy after a breakup. On one of his first post-breakup outings he meets a woman who is portrayed – literally – as a troll. In another episode, he is invited to his ex-girlfriend’s party to find that she is dating Hitler. Yes, that Hitler. He is not dead and has just been hanging out/hiding out, is ancient and rolling around in a wheelchair. Each episode ups the ante with this surreal take on the world, with one equating marriage with a prison sentence – you become a useful penis in the suburbs with a drill sergeant wife – life sentence without possibility of parole. Some insights shine through the absurd concepts and visuals, even if some things go too over the top for me. The absurdity, though, almost always serves to channel some more basic truths: the concept of remaining friends with members of the opposite sex once you have moved on and how partners may have different rules for that depending on the relationship, the nature of marriage, the cocoon-like pod people that new couples become and much more along the same lines.

The Call of the Millennial – The Rebel Yell?

Apart from the aforementioned Catastrophe, which features basically middle-aged people, the other shows and television in general have been flooded with shows featuring millennials on the hunt – for fun, for sex, for love, for drugs, for something. Sometimes they don’t even know what they are looking for but find something anyway. Perhaps this aimless search is how and why these shows work. Familiar themes explored through a new lens – but with a slightly rebellious twist?