Hulu's Difficult People is a sitcom about smallness. Its version of NYC contains just a few landmarks: the synagogue where Julie (Julie Klausner) tries to network with other Jewish writers; the one gym where her best friend, Billy (Billy Eichner), a fellow struggling comedian, hasn’t awkwardly broken up with a guy after a locker-room hookup; the Manhattan streets where the two walking, whining snark machines extensively catalogue the things they despise, which amounts to pretty much everything and everyone. And so the smallness of Julie and Billy’s personalities keeps their world small.
Returning with a two-episode launch today (July 12), Difficult People can feel as stifling as midtown in July. Were it a network show, it could be universally relatable: Nothing’s as instantly familiar as the sensation of being on the outside looking in. But Klausner has created the opposite: a comedy for showbiz insiders whose best episode in its first season took place in the still-murky world of podcasts, where mainstream celebrity and renown continue to elude its biggest luminaries. Other specificities — Jewish, gay, local, and pop-cultural — provide wonderfully precise, refreshing details while narrowing the series’s appeal. I’m not always in the mood to spend a half-hour binge-drinking haterade with Julie and Billy — the vitriol, however funny, can get tiring and repetitive — but I’m glad they’re around to hang when the whim does strike.
Self-improvement is neither Julie nor Billy’s thing — and neither is it Difficult People’s. Season 2 lets the two BFFs stay themselves, and the show, at least in the first three episodes, offers more of the same. Cruelly hilarious one-liners about pop culture remain the best reason to watch. ("I have a theory [Anne Hathaway] was born without a clitoris." "That explains The Intern.") Julie and Billy are similarly unimpressed by trends in TV, like the media niche-ification that Difficult People itself represents. Neither character is a fan of the fake Netflix show Horse, "about the single mom who sells heroin to support her trans child’s horseback-riding hobby." (It’s a comedy.) Not since 30 Rock has a series assumed such a devoted obsession with pop culture on the part of the audience. (Incidentally, Tina Fey guest stars as herself in the season premiere.)
Difficult People also has fun ripping apart dumb trends, like the "old-timer" played by John Mulaney who rides a penny-farthing to get around town ("I think it’s sexy that you dress like someone who can still get the measles," Billy cracks). On the whole, the plots serve as excellent vehicles for the two friends’ acid tongues. Julie and Billy’s search for a celebrity-friendly charity — "our cause should be sad, but not too sad" — in yet another desperate bid for any kind of recognition opens up a forum for critiquing the less-than-altruistic motivations for some fame-dependent relief projects.
Difficult People knows exactly who its principal duo is, along with Julie’s doting, trampled boyfriend (a scene-stealing James Urbaniak) and her self-obsessed, power-hungry mother (Andrea Martin). But the show is clueless whenever it steps out of the tiny universe it’s constructed for itself, like when Julie and Billy head over to what might as well be spelled Noo Joizey and trick a group of blue-collar Italian-Americans into friendship in the third episode. Instead of the rapidly gentrifying Hoboken of, well, real life, we meet a woman named Rizzo and a gay dummy who identifies as "LG-BLT." I’d love for Difficult People to one day demand that Julie and Billy realize how burrowing into themselves has limited who they are and could be. Until then, I’m happy with jokes about movie stars’ missing genitalia.