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Difficult People Review: “Pledge Week” (1.03)

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<i>Difficult People</i> Review: &#8220;Pledge Week&#8221; (1.03)

Savvy is the show that attempts to address the lowest common denominator criticism before they even hear about it. People complaining about how Billy and Julie are mean to celebrities? They’re way ahead of you by having Billy attempt to be nicer about famous people after his mean tweets about Chelsea Handler get him booted from an appearance on Watch What Happens: Live before he even gets on the air. Annoyed that they’re such selfish people? Yes, it’s true, but not without a cost when Arthur calls Julie out for not being more supportive during the most stressful time of his year: pledge week at PBS.

The natural arc of the traditional half-hour sitcom is to land each character in a much better place at the end than they were at the beginning, having learned a Very Important Lesson along the way. That, blessedly, only kind of happens here. Julie and Arthur have a huge blowup, leading to her vacating their apartment. And her attempts to make it up to him are stumbling at best—she brings him lunch at the station (along with a jar of olives and a bottle of bitters), but then tries to help jazz up the pledge drive, much to Arthur and his boss’s frustration.

Billy, as well, stumbles in his anti-snark efforts, particularly when faced with a potential new partner, a cute dentist named Fred, who turns out to be “a participator.” That is, someone who willingly joins in to birthday party singalongs in restaurants or volunteers to be part of the show at a Bridget Everett performance. In his mind, there are few things worse. Unless Fred is willing to sit on the sidelines with Billy and throw barbs, their relationship is never going to work.

Not for a lack of trying. In one of the episode’s best scenes, Billy tries to prove himself to Fred by volunteering to be part of the act for the world’s premier sober magician, Abra Cadouglas (played to perfection by SNL star Kate McKinnon). He winds up getting humiliated and turning his potential beau off in the process. So, by the end, it’s back to the snark, with Billy and Julie doing a “PBS Roast” telling mean jokes about Charlie Rose and Maggie Smith to drum up donations.

So, instead of Billy and Julie changing in some remarkable way and vowing to do better, they’re pretty much back to where they were at the start of the episode. It might feel like a cop out if they didn’t cap off the episode with Martin Short making a cameo appearance where he dresses the two down with the same off-hand vitriol. Like the good soldiers they are, they take their lumps and move on with their night.

Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.

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