Since its debut a couple years ago, Hulu’s Difficult People has been a consistently hilarious series. The show about two solipsistic New Yorkers who believe themselves destined for fame though they put forth little effort towards to their dreams of stardom approached its material with a no holds barred view of pop culture and how people interact. With its third season gearing up to debut on Hulu, Difficult People has just made the leap into a different stratosphere. Much like how The Simpsons and Parks and Recreation found their majestic strides in their third seasons, Difficult People has found the utmost confidence in its characters and its acerbic voice, propelling the show to the status of the funniest show on television.
What’s really obvious about the tone and humor of Difficult People in its third season is how creator and star Julie Klausner along with co-star Billy Eichner have leaned in heavily on the current state of affairs to create a kind of bizarre dystopia as a backdrop for the show. Whereas many shows may fear alienating a certain aspect of their audience by being too political, Difficult People owns its disdain for Donald Trump and everything that he stands for. This frees the show to be as irreverent as it wants towards any number of topics, creating fictional policy that Julie and Billy have to contend with through their contentious travails through the streets of New York.
Sometimes the worst fears of a Trump Administration are plot points, such as the episode where Billy attempts gay conversion therapy because Mike Pence is offering $6,000, or just minor asides, such as the decimation of the healthcare system so Quizno’s has become the nation’s leading healthcare provider. The world created by this stark tone makes Difficult People a show that delves into politics without being a political show that is main concerned with preaching. It creates a cartoonish mirror to our own society and is consistently bringing some of the strongest laughs you’ll find on television.
The personal lives of Julie and Billy are also in consistent disarray, meaning the show isn’t simply drawing laughs out of a new political dystopia. In one episode, Julie struggles with life without anti-depressants after her doctor informs her that she’s medicated herself into near-death. She then takes up meditation, using tapes of Danny Aiello guiding her meditation in another example of an off the wall idea executed to perfection. Julie also has her relationship issues with her boyfriend Arthur (James Urbaniak), and an even more troubling relationship with her domineering and judgmental mother Marilyn (Andrea Martin). Each character dynamic builds in comedic tension as they take numerous unexpected and raucous turns.
For Billy, he’s still working as a waiter at the restaurant owned by Denise (Gabourey Sidibe) and Nate (Derrick Baskin), where he’s forced to contend with the extreme personalities of the flamboyant Michael (Cole Escola) and the transgendered conspiracy theorist Lola (Shakina Nayfack). Billy still struggles trying to make his way in the world of comedy. Even though he gets a break as a warm up comic before Larry Wilmore’s new show, it doesn’t take long for the viscous vocal opinions of Billy to derail things. Even Billy’s family life is in chaos as exemplified by the crazed issues concerning his cousin Garry (Fred Armisen) and his wife Rachel (Jackie Hoffman).
Difficult People features a number of celebrity appearances, some of which are rather unexpected. Rosie O’Donnell, Vanessa Williams, and Maury Povich are just a few of the celebrities in various roles over the course of the first three episodes of the season. On top of that, Difficult People doesn’t pull any punches on celebrities that they feel are more than ready for a comedic dressing down. The first episode of the season features a number of jokes aimed the dwindling legacy of Bill Cosby, and those gags only escalate as the episode progresses. The second episode takes on the complex legacy of Woody Allen, with Julie cast on the latest Amazon series from the prolific director. That causes complications as Julie is confronted by members of WAWA (no, not the East Coast convenience store but an organization called Women Against Woody Allen). She lies to get in their good graces while taking the job anyway. The episode then just morphs into series of gags about the disinterested directing style of Allen, with the director never seen and his script just a jumble of Post-it Notes. If you’ve seen any of Woody Allen’s recent films or his Amazon series Crisis in Six Scenes, you’ll know that these jabs are more than warranted and the execution here is once again impeccable.
I’ve watched each of the first three episodes of Difficult People’s third season more than once and each viewing brings forth more and more jokes and laughs than the previous viewing. The writing on the series is so incredibly dense with jokes that it’s impossible to absorb them all on a single viewing. The flow of the jokes, the confidence in the characters and outlandish situations, and the sheer density of the writing has made Difficult People take the next big step as a comedic series. It’s a rare show that is firing on all cylinders right now and is being guided by a creative team that know exactly where they want the show to be tonally. It’s always been really good, but now Difficult People is the funniest show on television.