Emmy MVP: ‘Man Seeking Woman’ is the best show flying under the radar

The first season of “Man Seeking Woman” aired on FXX this winter. Averaging 0.2 million viewers, it was the definition of “under the radar,” which is a shame because it was just about the funniest thing on television this past season.

A surreal half-hour comedy that plays loose with its narrative, the absurdist style of “Man Seeking Woman” will admittedly not be for everyone, but it is certainly unique. This is one show where the less you know, the better, so suffice it to say that two episodes is all that it takes for a full understanding.

Emmy MVP: “Looking” for nominations for one of television’s best shows

On the surface, “Man Seeking Woman” is a dating comedy grounded by a reliable performance from Jay Baruchel (“This is the End“) in the well-meaning and awkward everyman role that he often inhabits. Based on a book of short stories by Simon Rich, a sketch series was the more logical route for adaptation, given that the shorts only connect thematically and also given Rich’s background as the second-youngest writer ever on “Saturday Night Live. Instead, Rich assembled a dream team to bring his book to television as a sitcom with sketch elements.

Lorne Michaels is executive producer on both “Saturday Night Live” and “Man Seeking Woman” and he brings an assortment of former and current staffers from the former to guest star on the latter. Jonathan Krisel from “Portlandia” is lead director; Ian Maxtone-Graham is on the writing staff after two decades on “The Simpsons”, as is Robert Padnick, who was WGA-nominated for his writing debut: “PDA”, the funniest episode from the later seasons of “The Office”.

The two episodes that FX has submitted for Best Comedy Writing are by Sofia Alvarez — her first teleplays. She shares credit with Rich on one; the other is the season’s penultimate episode, in which the show cleverly reinvents itself to flesh out the overachieving sister played by Britt Lower (“Unforgettable“) and give her all that one could ever ask for in an Emmy submission for Best Comedy Supporting Actress. The title sequence is even rearranged as “Woman Seeking Man” to mark the occasion.

Main Title Design may be the only aspect of this hilarious and innovative series that gets Emmy recognition, as that category is consistently kind to programs that are snubbed everywhere else. Drawn in black-and-white outlines reminiscent of 2010’s Emmy-winning “Bored to Death” sequence, the titles perfectly capture the spirit of the show by giving simple dating icons a fantastical spin.

Let us consider how this Gold Derby Emmy MVP will fare:

PROS:

This is a show that deserves double-digit nominations when factoring in the below-the-line races. Reflecting the series’ sketch sensibilities, episodes frequently feature entirely new locales with creatively dressed sets and characters; this is a rare sitcom with visual flair. Bill Hader (“Saturday Night Live”) was inexplicably cast as an old man in the pilot when a real old man would have sufficed; if the Oscars could overcome whatever bias that they had against “Bad Grandpa” to recognize that makeup, the Emmys owe the prosthetics team of “Man Seeking Woman” a nomination.

FX mailed all 10 episodes on DVD to Emmy voters, giving voters full access to a show that they might not have even heard of otherwise.

FX has renewed it for a second season, seeing potential it is willing to work at.

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CONS:

Even FX’s critical darling “Louie” could not get nominated for Best Comedy Series until its third season, by which point it already had two Best Comedy Actor nominations under its belt, as well as a Best Comedy Writing win.

Although hailed as “TV’s smartest new comedy” by The Daily Beast’s Kevin Fallon, “always engrossing and smart” by Yahoo’s Ken Tucker and “refreshingly new and bafflingly different” by Newsday’s Verne Gay, among other raves, “Man Seeking Woman” was snubbed by both the upcoming Television Critics Assn. Awards and the recent Critics’ Choice Television Awards.

Are you convinced? Predict whether “Man Seeking Woman” will be nominated at the Emmys for Best Comedy Series using our easy drag-and-drop menu, then make your predictions in other categories. See contest rules; the best predictor will win $500 for Amazon. Register or log into your account so that you can also compete to predict “Game of Thrones”, “Survivor” and more. Stay tuned for our exclusive webcam interview with star Jay Baruchel next week.

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