Throughout TV history, there have been plenty of duos who’ve had the sort of close-knit, we-can-finish-each-other’s-sentences friendships you don’t often see in real life: Mary and Rhoda, Chandler and Joey, Abbi and Ilana. Add Difficult People‘s double act to that list — although the lead characters’ BFF bond may be the only good thing they have going for them. Part of Hulu’s latest round of original series (the first two episodes start streaming today), the cringe-comic sitcom stars Billy on the Street‘s Billy Eichner and comedian Julie Klausner as thirtysomething pals who are trying, and mostly failing, to become famous in New York City. On a recent episode of Late Night With Seth Meyers, Klausner described the series as “like Will and Grace, if they were unlikeable” — a fairly dead-on description. Neither of the actors are afraid to play characters who are blunt, self-absorbed, and maybe a little mean; it helps that they happen to be wickedly funny, too.
The series has an impressive pedigree: Amy Poehler signed on as an executive producer in its earliest stages, adding to a portfolio that already includes Broad City and her upcoming film Sisters with Tina Fey. Eichner and Klausner are also fixtures of NYC’s comedy scene — both have performed at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, and Klausner has done several solo cabaret shows — which may explain why the show is able to skewer that world so deftly.
But the biggest question remains: Is Difficult People funny? And just how difficult are we talking? Here’s everything you need to know.
Wait, I heard about this — wasn’t it going to be on USA?
Initially, yes. USA ordered a pilot in 2014, when the network was ramping up its sitcom offerings; but by the time it was completed, the home of Mr. Robot had changed its mind. Luckily, Hulu liked what they saw enough to order a full series in November. It’ll join offerings from JJ Abrams (who’s adapting Stephen King’s 11/22/63 into a series), Up in the Air filmmaker Jason Reitman, and Parenthood creator Jason Katims.
Who are these difficult people, exactly?
The series is the brainchild of Klausner, author of the memoir I Don’t Care About Your Band and host of the excellent podcast How Was Your Week?, and Eichner, an Emmy nominee for his genius, guerrilla-style talk show Billy on the Street. The real-life friends had a mutual admiration thing going long before they started working together — Klausner was a fan of his early YouTube videos, a DIY precursor to the man-on-the-street interviews he’s become known for; Eichner was a fan of her writing and comedy. After she signed on as a producer for the inuagural season of BotS, a friendship was born, and the duo’s brilliantly off-kilter sensibility and chemistry was refined on Twitter, where they continue to joke about everything from obscure Broadway shows to David Crosby’s review of Trainwreck. (Yeah, that happened.)
Okay, but what makes them difficult?
Klausner and Eichner play versions of themselves, also named Julie and Billy, who are struggling performers — with the key word being struggling. She writes mean TV recaps; he goes on auditions and works in a cafe; neither one is actually successful, and boy, are they bitter about it. Both also lack any kind of filter whatsoever: In the pilot, Julie tweets a raunchy joke about Blue Ivy Carter (it involves R. Kelly, and we’ll leave it at that), and is somehow surprised when it doesn’t go over well. “We haven’t really figured out our role in being unsuccessful,” said Klausner of their characters — and that’s where the conflict (and the humor) comes from.
That sounds like it could be…unpleasant. Is it?
Nope. Imagine Curb Your Enthusiasm, but the leads are more pop-culture obsessed, and only slightly less splenetic than Larry David. Unlikeable though they may be, Julie and Billy are also relatable; if you’ve ever been envious of someone who’s more successful than you, or you’ve wanted to tell off the jerk at work who keeps failing upwards, then you’ll see a bit of yourself in these characters. The show gets Gotham culture right in a way that most series set there don’t. There’s something especially New York-y about the way Billy and Julie carry themselves; the egotism and attitude are necessary to both life as a performer, and life in Manhattan.
But it’s not just all about them, right?
Well, mostly: Aside from Klausner and Eichner, the cast includes Tony-award winning actress and SCTV alum Andrea Martin as Julie’s mom; James Urbaniak as Julie’s nerdy, bow-tie-loving boyfriend Arthur; Gabourey Sidibe as Denise, the manager of the coffee shop where Billy works; and Broadway veteran Derrick Baskin as Nate, one of Billy’s coworkers. And thanks to the pair’s comedy connections, there’s an impressive roster of guest stars, including Rachel Dratch, Seth Meyers, Martin Short, Amy Sedaris, and Fred Armisen. Our favorite cameo so far: Kate McKinnon as a “sober magician” who’s like a weirder, aphorism-spewing Criss Angel.
Give me a good line from the pilot that’ll help me get a sense of the show.
At a performance of Annie, Billy and Julie discover that the titular character is going to be played by an understudy, sending them both on an expletive-laden rant. A woman with two children in front of them confronts them; an argument ensues, and at one point Julie asks the kids, “Do you know what an understudy is? Understudy is like a fancy word for disappointment.”
The pilot is a little hit-or-miss, but the show hits its stride in later episodes. One plot point finds Billy disgusted after finding out he’s dating a “participator,” who actually enjoys being called up on stage during shows. Later, the duo decide the only way to help Julie’s boyfriend, who’s working the least successful shift during a PBS pledge drive, is to do a roast of the network. The humor isn’t going to be for everyone — see above about that raunchy Blue Ivy joke — but if you appreciate biting wit, or jokes about twee baby names or the Real Housewives franchise, then this just might be the show for you.