Difficult People Recap: Toilet Hands Across America

Difficult People

Kessler Epstein Foundation
Season 2 Episode 2
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Nathan Lane as himself.

Difficult People

Kessler Epstein Foundation
Season 2 Episode 2
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Nathan Lane as himself. Photo: Hulu

Billy is asleep in his bedroom. By which I mean his apartment, which is basically a bed with a few dismal inches of room surrounding it, because this show gets what an actor/waiter’s salary would look like and how it would shape his life choices. (Though if we’re to believe Billy’s living in Manhattan, he also needs a roommate or two. Crawlspaces make perfectly good mother-in-law suites.)

He’s awakened by a frantic Julie, who informs him that he’s been sleeping for three days. This news freaks Billy out, as he imagines becoming one of those people who dies in his apartment and nobody cares until the neighbors notice the smell.

Julie informs him that a body wouldn’t smell in three days; it would take at least five. Julie must read a hell of a lot of true crime: We don’t absolutely know this about the character, and yet we very much know it about the character.

Billy resolves, not for the first time, to get a boyfriend, someone “to wake me and if I’m dead, to put me in a cuter outfit if need be.” They decide to find him that someone. “I love that I’m not doing it because I’m emotionally ready,” he says.

Later, Julie catches him up on what’s happened in the world While He Was Peter Gallaghering. They come across a dense crowd and move a street barrier to cross the street. A young woman follows them closely as they do, not that they notice. On the other sidewalk, they are greeted warmly by the staff of a women’s health clinic, who takes the girl inside, having mistaken Billy and Julie for escorts. “Come inside,” a staff member tells them, “we’ve got a whole room full of baked goods just for volunteers. I know it’s a little early for a brownie.”

Billy and Julie: “… Hunh?”

Title card!

Back at Julie’s place, they go through their Thank-You-for-Volunteering-at-Our-Abortion-Clinic swag bags, which are quite nice. “I hope that they give these gift bags to their patients too,” Julie says. (Wait for it.) “I feel like if you leave a little something behind, you should take something home.” (There it is!) “You know, like, leave a penny, take a penny.”

A moment, please, to praise the inclusion of the word “little” in the phrase “if you leave a little something behind.” The joke would have worked okay without it, but it’s there, and you can’t miss that it’s there, and it makes the joke exponentially more specific and discomfiting and real. The one “little” does a lot of good, hard work. Not so much le mot juste, as le mot just nasty.

Montage time! Billy and Julie attempt to come up with a charity of their own, along with a wacky viral-video challenge with which to tag celebrities. (The standout joke: “Make out with a trash can, Tea Leoni!” Also, coincidentally, the words of House Weldon.)

Julie and Arthur go out to see a movie — once a year, he gets to choose which one — in a crappy and cramped little theater. (That the movie Arthur chooses is Lorenzo’s Oil is maybe my favorite joke of this episode. Either this or “leave a little something,” I go back and forth.) In their pre-movie bickering, we learn that Arthur wants to move to a bigger apartment near Central Park, which Julie wants no part of. “I’m too punk rock!”

Arthur: This from the woman who’s seen Barbara Eden in concert four times.

Julie: You never know what you’re going to get with her.

Grudgingly (a word that has a place at the start of every sentence referring to any action ever taken by Julie), she agrees to meet with the condo board of the new place.

Billy shows up to work to be greeted by his replacement, Lola, a proud-bordering-on-insufferable trans truther. Matthew and Denise (Cole Escola and Gabourey Sidibe) enter with the news that Matthew is engaged. That such a loathsome creature as Matthew could find happiness drives Billy to bold action: He will ask out the next guy that walks through the door. He doesn’t, of course. He waits until an egregiously hot guy enters, then he makes his move.

Doug, the hot guy in question, is deaf. He’s played by Nyle DiMarco, winner of the 22nd season of America’s Next Top Model. His ASL interpreter is played by comedian John Early, whose episode of Netflix’s The Characters you should watch right now; it will make your life better.

Julie stops by Marilyn’s place to witness her mother cleaning the toilet because her housekeeper’s been poached. A solid de Blasio joke is made. But the real point of this scene is to give Julie the idea for their charity. The Toilet Hand Challenge: Take a photo of yourself sticking your hand in a toilet. No gloves. “The right hand, because it’s the right thing to do.”

On his date with Doug, the interpreter slyly refuses to translate Billy’s compliment into ASL, and storms off to the bathroom when Billy makes a crack about Gaga.

The next day in the park, Julie and Billy run into Nathan Lane, great white gay of the Great White Way. After some cajoling and bald-faced lying from Julie and Billy, Lane agrees to stick his hand in a public toilet “… for charity!” At first.

After a few minutes on videotape, Lane grows suspicious, and Billy and Julie grow spiteful and shouty. I do enjoy it when the show pulls back and lets us see that, Arthur weirdly excepted, everyone around Billy and Julie clearly sees them for the monsters they are.

As Lane leaves, Billy shouts after him, “I saw Mouse Hunt in the theater, you schmuck!”

In a therapy session with an OCD client named Cassie (Megan Hilty), Marilyn decides to kill two birds with one can of Draino: She hands Cassie a bucket of cleaning supplies and encourages her to go to town on the kitchen cabinets.

Grudgingly (see?), Julie accompanies Arthur on a walk through Central Park before the condo-board meeting. Arthur forgot to bring wine, but as they walk past the Alice in Wonderland statue, which is festooned with offerings of flowers, Julie decides to crawl up on the statue. She only does so after articulating a very well-reasoned argument about the size of Helena Bonham-Carter’s lips, because once again this show is for six people — six wonderfully bitter people who’d be fun get drunk with.

Julie falls off the statue, damaging it and her, and cops arrest her for destruction of public property.

A scene at the restaurant follows, which establishes that Michael and his elderly fiancé are gross, and that Lola is really not letting go of that whole jet-fuel-can’t-melt-steel-beams thing. (“Crack a book, sheeple!”)

Billy goes over to Doug’s place; Doug communicates using an app with a voice that’s 90 percent Siri, 10 percent Hawking. But it’s what he communicates — “Suck my fat thirsty one,” for example — that reduces Billy to laughter. Said laughter pisses Doug off, and he kicks Billy out.

Back at Marilyn’s House of Clean Minds and Clean Floors, Cassie decides she’s over her OCD, forcing Marilyn to call her old cleaning lady and (shudder) pay her more.

Julie has been assigned community service for her statuary-related malfeasance. At a minimum-security prison, she’s teaching white-collar criminals how write TV recaps. “Remember, a recap is about the person who writes it,” she tells them. “An episode of television isn’t the subject, you are.”

Let’s … let’s just, uh. Move on.

At the condo-board meeting, Julie and Arthur are shoo-ins, pending the approval of one last board member, who’s been under the weather lately, ever since … oh.

Cue the entrance of Nathan Lane, coughing, wheezing, hand bandaged, dragging an I.V. He recognizes Julie, calls her “toilet lady,” compares her to various Biblical plagues, and informs her that they’re amputating his hand on Thursday.

So that’s a no, then.

The good news, which Julie shares with Billy at Michael and Ulmer’s engagement party, is that she met Bernie Madoff’s cellmate in her prison class and convinced him to do the Toilet Hand Challenge. Their joy over their imminent human-waste-related fame is cut short when NY1’s Pat Kiernan delivers the sad news of the death of Nathan Lane, who died from touching toilet water. (Gotta say, Lane doesn’t get much of an obit in the Difficult People-verse — just a few seconds. But then Kiernan continues, “In other entertainment news, magician David Blaine is no longer a celebrity,” so who’s to say which reality is the better one?)

Doug and his ASL interpreter show up to thank Billy for finally allowing the two of them to acknowledge their feelings for each other. Billy pithily sums up this week’s Lesson Learned™: “FUCKIN’ CHARITY.”

Difficult People Recap: Toilet Hands