Review: ‘Branzino’ Brings Competing Relationships on ‘Man Seeking Woman’

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Over the course of seven episodes, Man Seeking Woman has put its main character Josh, played by Jay Baruchel, through a number of ups and downs concerning his romantic life. Even when things seem to be going Josh’s way, the inevitable is always lurking around the corner. In this week’s episode, Branzino, Josh believes that he may have found his soulmate, although it may affect another relationship in Josh’s life – his friendship with Mike, played by Eric Andre, Josh’s best friend.

The episode opens with Mike playing video games while Josh retrieves his mail. Josh’s mail is jam-packed with letters from various potential girlfriends. Having applied to each potential girlfriend like he would a college, Josh must go through the process of sifting through the numerous rejection letters before stumbling upon a lone acceptance letter. After being accepted, Josh enters into a relationship with Rachel (Claire Stollery), a small liberal arts girl who happens to be in-state. The couple hits it off rather quickly and just a few short weeks into their relationship, Josh is going to introduce Rachel to his mother, Patti (Robin Duke), on her very own late-night talk show. Despite the awkwardness of the interview session, Rachel is able to win over Josh’s mother. While the couple attempts to host a dinner party, Mike comes and creates a bit of a scene through his obnoxious behavior. This puts Josh in an uncomfortable situation. Wanting to please Rachel, Josh agrees to place Mike at the Chill Acres Bro Shelter. With Josh and Rachel hitting it off so well, they decide it’s time to take the next step – get surgically conjoined. Soon, the once-budding romance is drowned in a sea of bickering as the two are now, for better or worse, inseparable.

Branzino has Man Seeking Woman doing what it does best – presenting relatable scenarios in the theater of the absurd. This time, however, the episode takes a two-pronged approach. On one end you have the infatuation of a new relationship, and the acceleration of that relationship before it crashes. On the other end, you have the rift created by friends when in the midst of that infatuation. But the show’s insistence on tackling these topics through the view of, as Eric Andre said, a psychedelic romantic comedy allows for an honest exploration of these topics without being weighed down hand-wringing drama or teary-eyed sentimentality. By having Mike take on the mannerisms of an unruly dog, leaving Josh no choice but to drop him at the shelter in order to appease his new romance, the show can retain its heart (it’s just a twisted heart, but heart nonetheless) while both lampooning and sympathizing with Mike and his perpetual adolescences.

That same balance of sympathy and mocking is also present in the relationship between Josh and Rachel. As he’s done throughout the series, Josh is a character incapable of doing what’s right for himself. Had Josh been able to exercise a bit of patience in his new relationship, he might’ve been able to make it work. But Josh was swept up in his own hopes for something special that he allowed it all to be ruined by means of oversaturation. Too much, too soon.

Like most of the series’ episodes, Branzino features a number of appearances by comedic juggernauts. Returning again as Josh’s step dad is Mark McKinney from The Kids in the Hall. The biggest guest star in this episode is Carrie Brownstein of Portlandia and the band Sleater-Kinney. As the attendant of the Bro Shelter, it’s her job to try and find these bros new homes or else she’ll have to put them down after 30 days. While the guest stars are excellent, relative newcomer Claire Stollery does a wonderful job as Rachel. You can see why Josh would fall for Rachel, as Stollery gives her a subtle charm to match her endearing smile. She’s also just as good in present the frustration of familiarity before, of course, the couple is forced to split – not just emotionally, but physically.

Man Seeking Woman has gotten better and better as the creative team behind the show have found their footing. And the future gets brighter, too, as Simon Rich’s series has just been picked up for a second season. The show has made some great strides forward in its first season. Aside from a hiccup or two, each episode is better than the one that preceded it – I hope this will apply to the second season as well. There are only two more episodes left this season and, as they’ve shown us time and time again, anything can happen. And I do mean anything.

Man Seeking Woman is on FXX Wednesdays at 10:30pm and is streaming through the FX Now app.

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