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Misanthropic Pair Returns for Season Three of 'Difficult People'
August 8, 2017  | By David Hinckley

Credit Julie Klausner with staying the course. And amazingly enough, it’s working.

Klausner’s Difficult People launches its third season Tuesday[Aug. 8] on the streaming service Hulu, and she apparently has no intention of making her difficult people any easier.

Klausner plays Julie Kessler, an aspiring comedian who has no use for anyone except occasionally herself and often Billy Epstein (Billy Eichner, top, right, with Klausner), her fellow aspiring comedian.

Epstein feels the same way, making them into the difficult people of the show’s title. They plow through the world like the Taliban plowing through a village of infidels. No sympathy, no excuses, no prisoners.

When a doctor slumps over dead while writing a prescription for Julie, Julie gets furious because rigor mortis sets in before Julie can finish the scrip by forging the doctor’s signature.

Curiously, this totally self-centered attitude makes Billy’s and Julie’s relationship more striking. They’re best pals, not sex partners, and they actually seem to care about each other.

Furthermore, neither treats the just-friends situation like it’s any big deal. It’s refreshing, since almost all TV storylines inevitably start injecting a will they/won’t they subplot.

Still, Difficult People has always faced an obvious hurdle: How long can these two sustain their misanthropic ways and keep it amusing rather than tedious and repetitious?

After two seasons and 16 episodes, they start this third season, which will run 10 episodes, cheerfully pushing forward and showing no obvious signs of insult fatigue.

It helps that they have a regular stream of guest stars, which introduces fresh gag material, though the guest riff is the weakest part of the new season’s first episode.

That’s no fault of guest Larry Willmore. His gag is that Billy has landed a job as the warmup act for Willmore’s TV show, and then Billy’s material turns out to be so inappropriate that he and Larry have a pointed disagreement.

One of several funnier moments comes when Julie and Billy, as part of their community service sentence for one of the particularly bad things they did last season, have to dress as clowns and entertain a young boy in the hospital.

It’s hard to explain why it’s funny without ruining the gags, but suffice it to say their bedside manner is somewhat less than warm and nurturing. If you were that kid, you might also want to hide the chocolates on the table beside your bed.

The first episode’s central riff has Julie going to seder at her mother’s house, a prospect that sends Julie on the aforementioned frenzied quest for more mind-dulling narcotics.

Andrea Martin (right, with Klausner) plays Julie’s mother Marilyn as brilliantly as always, and Stockard Channing adds a great touch as Aunt Bonnie, whose recovery from a serious cocaine habit may not involve the elements recommended by most rehabilitation centers.

Klausner and Eichner, being comedians themselves, have these roles down. While some of Difficult People falls back on setups for one-liners, it also has given these two characters some depth in spite of themselves.

Where most shows about obnoxious people quickly start softening them around the edges to give them more dimension, Difficult People so far has not. As we move into season 3, the high wire is holding.

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Good news, TVWW readers: David’s new book from Doubleday, The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific is now available in paperback for under $15. Doubleday says: “Darwin had his theory of evolution, and David Bianculli has his. Bianculli's theory has to do with the concept of quality television: what it is and, crucially, how it got that way."

"The Platinum Age of Television is an effusive guidebook that plots the path from the 1950s’ Golden Age to today’s era of quality TV. For instance, animation evolved from Rocky and His Friends to South Park; variety shows moved from The Ed Sullivan Show to Saturday Night Live; and family sitcoms grew from I Love Lucy to Modern Family. Interviews with Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear, Bob Newhart, Matt Groening, Larry David, Amy Schumer are high points... Bianculli has written a highly readable history." —The Washington Post


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