Sneak Peek – Difficult People

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If you click on the links in my weekly pop culture roundup, you are probably familiar with the website Vulture; it’s one of my go to sources for news, commentary or recaps of all things pop culture. They do a great job and they are a model for what I’d like this blog to be (given the restraints that I do this for free and don’t have a staff). Last year, they kicked off Vulture Fest, a yearly festival devoted to pop culture with panels and events – sort of like a very small, very focused comic-con. The dates didn’t work for me last year, so when this year’s festival came around I was delighted to discover that I had not already committed myself for that weekend. I decided to go small and only attend one panel to get a taste of what the festival had to offer and as a nod to some concept of fiscal restraint. Looking at the schedule, there were a lot of cool events – the lure of a Q&A with Jerry Seinfeld was very strong – but once I saw an opportunity to be in the same room as Amy Poehler, my decision was made. I’ve already seen Seinfeld in person a handful of times, but when was I going to have the chance again to hang out with Leslie Knope?

Poehler was on the panel for a new Hulu show called Difficult People, for which she serves as an executive producer. Poehler also helped bring Broad City to television – if you’re not watching, you should be – so she has a proven track record in the shows that she chooses to be associated with. Difficult People has a strong comedy pedigree even without Poehler; the show was created by, written by and stars Julie Klausner, a comedienne who I enjoy (especially her book, I Don’t Care About Your Band), and co-stars Billy Eichner, best known from his show Billy on the Street and his role on Parks and Recreation (yup –he’s the guy that yells). The event featured a screening of an episode of the series and then a panel discussion with Poehler, Klausner and Eichner. If that wasn’t worth a trip to New York City, I’m not sure what is.

I don’t think that the episode that they showed us was the pilot, but if it’s any indication of what the rest of the series is like, Difficult People should be a hit. It was just so smart and funny and had jokes coming at you fast and furious; the joke density of the episode reminded me of an episode of 30 Rock. I pretty much fell in love with the show right away. It was fun to see it with a group of people who enjoyed it as much as I did; the only downside of that experience was that people were laughing so hard and so long that I missed some lines of dialogue. Because the series airs on Hulu, they don’t have the same regulation on content as a network comedy and they use that freedom judiciously. The use of a well-time expletive should not be underrated.

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The show follows slightly fictionalized versions of Julie and Billy as they struggle to make it show business, a quest that is complicated by both of their tendencies to be brutally honest and talk about other celebrities. In the episode that we say, Billy loses his job as guest bartender on Andy Cohen’s Watch What Happens Live when one of the guests insists that the be removed because of something Billy previously said about them. Julie is doing no better, as her snarky commentary derails her boyfriend’s PBS fundraiser. The show is full of other great people in supporting roles – Gabourey Sidibe, for example, turns up as one of their pals – and there are some fun cameos. Julie and Billy’s personalities aren’t making their relationships any easier either and they occasionally have to wrestle with if they are actually difficult people (hence the title). Billy and Julie are friends in real life and their comradery truly shines through in Difficult People. The fact that they are playing a version of themselves makes the series feel very real; if you know anything about either one of these actors, it’s not hard to believe that their portrayal is pretty close to their actual personalities. After seeing them interact in real life on the panel, they really aren’t that different on the show than they are in real life.

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The panel was almost as hilarious as the show was and it was a real thrill to see the three of them in person. Amy Poehler let Julie and Billy take center stage, but it was clear how much all three of them liked and respected each other. Poehler heaped praise on both Klausner and Eichner and in return they were both thankful that she helped make the show a reality and was generous with advice. They talked a little about what to expect from future episodes of the show, if it was difficult to do a show that was somewhat autobiographical, other shows that they would like to appear on (Poehler is a big Game of Thrones fan) and the shows that they respected (everyone on the panel is rightfully enchanted with Louie). Billy and Julie constantly cracked up Amy, who spent most of the panel laughing. She wasn’t the only one. Klausner and Eichner are funny separately, but they seem to bring out the best in each other when they are together, which bodes really well for the show. The only way that I could see Difficult People not doing well is if people simply don’t know about it. I’m guessing it will take only one episode to get most people hooked. I’m legitimately bummed out that I have to wait until August for the episodes to officially debut. I was ready for more.

Some other quick thoughts:

  • There was a really funny moment when everyone’s cell phones went off at the same time with a notification about a flash flood warning.
  • I haven’t heard anything official, but it Amy Poehler was wearing a very sparkly rock on her hand. It may be nothing or it may mean that she’s engaged to boyfriend Nick Kroll and I have some celebrity scoop.
  • It sounds like they have quite the A-list of people appearing on episodes. Some of the people that they mentioned were Seth Myers, Fred Armisen, Amy Sedaris and Debbie Harry.
  • I was very impressed with how smoothly everything ran at Vulture Fest. I would definitely consider going again.

I am very glad that I decided to go to Vulture Fest and I absolutely picked the right panel to go to because I learned about a new show that I think I’m going to be a very big fan of. Difficult People is a tremendously funny show that I would recommend just based on the one episode that we screened; it has its own distinctive voice and offers a different comedic sensibility than a lot of what’s currently out there. Hulu doesn’t have quite the reputation in original programing that some other online platforms do, but I think that shows like Difficult People are an excellent way for them to change that.

Difficult People will debut on Hulu in August. Don’t worry – I’ll remind you.

 

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