The current television landscape is filled with shows like Difficult People, half-hour sitcoms whose dialogue can be chopped up into 140 characters for easy tweeting or that features plenty of scenes perfect for being cut into YouTube-able chunks or turned into animated gifs. This is the modern marketplace: if your show can’t be shared in some fashion via social media, it’s not going to survive.
Difficult People creator and star Julie Klausner knows this better than most, as does her co-star Billy Eichner. These real-life friends fill their Twitter feeds with pithy, off-the-cuff commentary about popular culture and celebrities. Fun as it is to read, it certainly doesn’t seem the basis for a TV show, outside of Best Week Ever (a show Klausner wrote for) and The Soup.
Impressively, Klausner and producer Amy Poehler found a way to tap into that wellspring of tweetable humor while shaping it into a narrative that is both fun to watch and damn hilarious. It helps that the premise is a familiar one: Klausner and Eichner play best friends—named Julie and Billy, natch—who struggle with their creative and personal lives while tossing off bon mots, mocking celebrities, and reviling modern life. The look of confusion and disgust on their faces when they learn that someone named their kids Memphis and Maverick is one of the more priceless moments in this show’s first two episodes.
The creators of the show also wisely stack their deck with some of the best comic actors around to fill in the supporting roles. SCTV alum Andrea Martin is on hand to play Julie’s mom, and Hal Hartley regular James Urbaniak is used to perfection as Julie’s wonderful dandy of a boyfriend, Arthur. Also popping up is a catty Gabourey Sidibe as Billy’s boss, and in the second episode, Nate Corddry, who plays an old high school crush of Julie’s…and the third player in the titular “Devil’s Three-way.”
As difficult as these main characters can be to anyone that isn’t them (Billy, in particular, is a terrible waiter who berates or ignores customers), the show is infused with a lot of heart. For these two episodes, it’s Eichner who works through some deep emotional trauma as he tries to get over a breakup and, in his efforts to win a role in the remake of Vice Versa, comes to terms with his fraught relationship with his own father. It’s especially lovely seeing this side of Eichner. After watching him yell his way through the last seasons of Parks & Recreation and his own show, Billy on the Street, he proves to be a far more nuanced actor.
And if plot and sentiment are of little interest to you, there’s more than enough cutting comments to keep you giggling, and for you to share on your Facebook walls. Everyone from Chelsea Handler to David Byrne (Billy accidentally hits the famed musician with a van) to James Spader to Katherine McPhee get thrown under their verbal bus. They may be dating the show with such chatter, but Eichner and Klausner are clearly having a ball with Difficult People, and so will you. Just keep those tweeting thumbs limber; you’re going to need them.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.