FXX comedy “Man Seeking Woman” is growing up.
In Season 1, Josh (Jay Baruchel) was mostly concerned about dating bridge trolls, alien sex goddesses… or his own ex (Maya Erskine). By Season 3, Josh has entered a committed relationship with Lucy (Katie Findlay) — but the ways he deals with commitment are no less absurd.
Simon Rich created the show based on his book “The Last Girlfriend on Earth.” Much of the first season’s absurd exploits, like dating the troll and his ex-girlfriend dating Hitler, come from the book. Season 2 was all new territory, and featured Josh and Mike (Eric Andre) competing for the affection of their coworker Rosa (Rosa Salazar).
Rich spoke with Screener about the future of “Man Seeking Woman,” this current season and beyond. We also got a chance to find out about the show’s re-enactments of “Blue Bloods” with none of the original cast… And those paintings of Josh having sex with dogs and other animals, of course. Edited for clarity and length.
You exhausted your book in the first season — as you invent new things for Seasons 2 and 3, have you ever thought of another book? Or does this material feed the show better than a book?
Oh, that’s a really interesting question. It never occurred to me to adapt anything from the show into prose. I think it’s because we try so hard, especially in Seasons 2 and 3, to work in genres that are visual. We try to use filmic reference points, and I think most of the tropes that we play with are probably best served on the screen.
Going into the more serialized story with Josh and Lucy his season, what did you learn from the Rosa arc last season?
I felt like the Rosa arc from Season 2, at the time, it was the most ambitious thing we’d attempted. I think the show took a big leap forward when we did that five-episode arc. This season, we wanted to build on that — to see if we could keep it up for an entire season, as opposed to just half a season. Attempting that was a huge step in the right direction, and I think we learned a lot from it.
Did you learn things that maybe didn’t work that you could correct, or things you wanted to emphasize with Lucy?
Well, Season 2 was about unrequited love. Season 3 is a lot more redemptive, not to give too much away. I wanted to do a show that was honest about relationships, and truthful about how hard it can be to date somebody, but at the same time, one that was ultimately romantic and uplifting and rootable. That was our goal this year.
We’ve been on the air for three years — but it wasn’t really until Season 3 that we actually started writing about love. Season 1 was about heartbreak, Season 2 was about longing… We’re finally in our first romantic season.
Is there any room for a “Woman Seeking Man” episode, with the Josh and Lucy arc?
Yes, we are very excited about our annual Liz episode: Episode eight, which features the hilarious Peter Gallagher [as] Josh and Liz’s biological father. He’s a character we’ve described a couple of times, but have never actually introduced until this episode. Britt [Lower], as always, is phenomenal…
The “Woman Seeking Man” episodes in Season 1 and Season 2 also, in a big way, laid the groundwork for the season — six out of 10 episodes have a female protagonist. I don’t think we would have been able to attempt that if we hadn’t had so much success with Britt’s great episodes in Seasons 1 and 2.
Is her father the man she’s seeking?
It’s an episode that’s very much about Liz’s relationship with her parents — all of her parents: Her mother, her father and her stepfather. It’s not a romantic episode, it’s not a dating episode… So it’s our first Liz episode that isn’t about her love life — which is definitely a bit of a departure for us.
If this season does end in a wedding, could Season 4 be newlyweds, Season 5 about having a baby…?
When we started the show, I never imagined that we would be doing an episode, for example, about Liz’s relationship with her estranged father. Three years ago, we were focused mainly on the ramifications of office crushes and texting. So the show has grown a lot in a couple of years. We’ve gotten a lot more ambitious. We’ve taken increasingly larger risks… The longer the show lasts, the more brand new territory we’ll explore.
That’s a great way of not giving away how this season ends…
It’s really exciting, as a show because we’ve had the freedom to really change everything about it — it’s very malleable, the format’s very changeable and shiftable. The fact that we’re able to change our protagonist from episode to episode gives us a lot of freedom, that’s what’s so fun about writing the show! You get to take big swings.
Is this the first season you’ve been able to do ‘ripped from the headlines’ jokes, like undocumented boyfriends?
We always look to high-stakes tropes for inspiration, things like apocalyptic sci-fi films or horror movies. This year we didn’t have to look any further than CNN for high-stakes tropes. We had an episode in Season 2 where Josh runs for Boyfriend. That episode and 301 were both written by Dan Mirk, who spent years at The Onion — so I think some of his satire experience went into our show.
Have you heard from the 33 Chilean coal miners after that episode?
Not yet! I hope we didn’t offend anybody — it’s such a bleak story. We certainly play with some pretty dark tropes on our show, but sometimes it’s the only way to get across how emotionally dark a situation can feel.
I’d love to think The 33 felt like they really made it once they became a ‘Man Seeking Woman’ episode…
[Laughs] That would be thrilling. No fan mail from them so far, but I’ll keep checking.
You did fake audio for ‘Must Love Dogs’ and for ‘Carnivale’ — what was the decision to actually film [the fake version of CBS cop drama] ‘Blue Bloods’?
Mike O’Brien deserves most of the credit for that. He had written it originally as offscreen dialogue. It made us laugh, and he said, “Why don’t we just shoot the damn thing.” We said fine and we actually shot it. Filming the fake ‘Blue Bloods’ was definitely one of the onset highlights of the year for Ryan [Case] and I.
Did you totally remodel Josh’s apartment set when Lucy fixed it up?
The apartment is a pretty interesting feat of engineering: It’s on a soundstage, and the walls have to be pretty movable because we’re constantly changing the apartment to execute some kind of gag or premise…
For example, in Season 2 when Josh dates a car, we had to make the bedroom enormous for the car to fit inside the bedroom. The walls sometimes have to be fitted with explosives… It’s a really cool set, it’s kind of like a Swiss Army knife of a set. We require a lot out of it and we’re constantly rejiggering it to serve our needs.
Could it also go back to the old set if you needed to?
Yes. In fact, we shot our episodes out of order this year for various logistical reasons. I believe the set went back and forth a few times over the course of the shoot. It went from being Josh’s gross apartment to the nicer version and then back again, sometimes all within the span of a few days.
Who made the paintings of Josh blowing the dogs?
Great question! Our incredible art team, led by Tony Ianni. Tony’s staff is fantastic. We ask a lot of them, and the dog paintings went through numerous iterations before we felt like we creatively had gotten it right. We probably spent more time fine-tuning the dog paintings than on any piece of art in the history of the show! The conversations about the graphic animal blow job paintings, sometimes the arguments would get pretty intense and serious. I wish that somebody had taped our meetings about the paintings because they’re probably as funny as the actual episode.
Were any paintings too much for standards and practices?
No, we didn’t seem to have a problem with those paintings. S&P has occasionally reared their head with some of the stuff we’ve attempted, but… Somehow those painting sailed through!
“Man Seeking Woman” airs Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT on FXX.