As fun and fresh as Difficult People has been, the episodes sometimes get bogged down by a need to stuff jokes poking fun at celebrities, pop culture and frustrating New Yorkers into every minute. The formlessness of the half-hour show is its charm and occasionally its undoing.
This week, Julie and Billy are out to jab into the hornet’s nest of YouTube sensations in the form of a 19-year-old vlogger that is more successful than the two main characters could ever hope to be. The script also finds time to touch on the infantilizing of entertainment, kitschy restaurants, the elderly, self-important rich women, Drunk History, The Capitol Steps, and Jon Bon Jovi, especially when he was on Inside The Actors’ Studio. That material could be one episode a piece, but we are living in the “more is more” age, so it all gets crammed into 22 minutes of air time.
What center the episode has is our two heroes deciding to change the menu at the restaurant where Billy is employed to all children’s menu fare (“We’re going to overcharge adults for cinnamon toast and string cheese!”). As you’d guess, the place is a success. But because they call it “The Children’s Menu,” parents and their kids flock there, screwing up Julie and Billy’s plan to hobnob with hipsters.
In the midst of it, Julie goes toe-to-toe with said teen Internet sensation who seems to have gotten all of her career advice from The Secret (“You just have to decide to be successful,” she says with a straight face and a snotty lilt). It’s funny enough but seems a little mean-spirited considering it was YouTube that helped Billy Eichner get out of the comedy club circuit in New York, and Julie Klausner’s podcast that earned her the attention of Amy Poehler. Don’t bite the hand that fed, kids. You may need it again.
The thing this half-hour is lacking is any semblance of heart. Sure, you feel for Billy when he doen’t land his SNL audition, and then finds out that the show’s new cast is made up entirely of children. Outside of that, and a few choice barbs from Julie’s mom, there isn’t much else to hang your emotions on. Not that every episode needs it, but that was the element that really distinguished Difficult People from being just a complete Chelsea Lately-like snarkfest. It certainly would have remedied what drags this week’s installment down and breathed a little more light into the proceedings.
At least we got to revel in the pokes at Billy’s obnoxious co-worker (“He’s like the gay son Jiminy Cricket is ashamed of”), speculations at Malcolm Gladwell’s kissing style (“He either pecks or is way too wet”), and America’s preeminent musical comedy political satire act (“I saw the Capitol Steps…I had a UTI the whole time and I’m not sure which was more irritating”). We’ll take the sour instead of the sweet this week, and hope that they get the balance back for next time.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.