It was alright.
For some shows, I wish that was all I really had to say about them. The problem with “Difficult People” isn’t necessarily that it’s doing anything that deserves harsh criticism, but more that there’s nothing worthy of high praise either. The humor of the show has a bit of a bite, but it’s not enough to hurt. The characters are portrayed as terrible people, but aren’t horrible enough to be interesting. There are individual moments and jokes that shine, but after watching two half-hours, it starts to cement itself as an average, middle-of-the-road show.
“Difficult People” follows the misadventures of two comedians, Julie (Julie Klausner, “Mulaney”) and Billy (Billy Eichner, “Billy on the Street”) in New York. During the first two episodes of the show, the characters curse in front of children at the theater, attempt a poorly-conceived threesome, run into some trouble while preparing for a callback and attempt hypnosis therapy. The ensemble is rounded out with Tony Award Winner Andrea Martin (Broadway’s “Pippin”) in the role of Julie’s mother, James Urbaniak (“Review”) as Julie’s boyfriend, and Gabourey Sidibe (“Precious”) as the co-owner of the restaurant where Billy waits tables.
Just read those names, that cast is really strong, and their natural talent provides a lot of what works about the show. Eichner has proven with “Billy on the Street” that he’s a gifted comedian when asked to yell at people. His best moments are where he just sits back and lets loose with Klausner. In The opening sequence of the series, where they attend a matinee of “Annie,” they are able to just let loose a stream of jokes which about theater (particularly understudies at the theater) which are laugh-out-loud funny. However, when they’re not on screen together, their bite doesn’t feel as sharp because the jokes just aren’t there to back up their natural abilities. Martin and Sidibe do the best with what they have (especially Martin with some great physical comedy in the second episode), but Sidibe is saddled with a character who gets several different versions of one joke to tell and Martin doesn’t get much more.
The show’s biggest problem is something which the show probably thinks is its biggest benefit — its lack of structure. "Difficult People" doesn’t take the time to establish its world and only tenuously sets the character’s relationships to one another. While a lot of exposition can easily become clunky, it’s still necessary to give the viewer something about why the characters are connected. While the show does do a great job setting up the main characters’ friendship, it doesn't do much with anyone else. I get that the show is going for a light, breezy tone, but the writer’s guiding touch is a little too soft here.
If the show finds a way to give the talented ensemble some stronger material and actually adds some weight to the character’s relationships, it might actually be something that is worth spending time on, especially given the current glut of good television out there. Right now though, it’s an average show with strong leads and jokes which still need to catch up with their abilities.