It’s the season finale, guys. We’ve laughed, we’ve learned, we’ve vomited into beaver diapers. All in all, this season’s arc has been one of taking the show’s premise — look at how self-involved Julie and Billy are! — and nudging it so that we begin to understand why they are the way they are. Billy, for example, has always said he wants to find someone, but watching how that desire colored his scenes with, say, DeNeil in “36 Candles” was something else. And the pain that’s always simmered under every Julie and Marilyn scene has bubbled over just often enough to give the jokes and the performances more room to breathe.
And so to work: Billy and Julie are waiting for a rideshare car they’ve just ordered on the app GoatX, so named because its cars are adorned with goatees. In the opening 30 seconds, we get references to Lyft, the 2001 Drew Barrymore joint Riding in Cars With Boys, and yahrzeit candles, because this show is micro-targeted with a feral intensity. We learn that NYC is on high alert, and citizens are being asked not to use the subways. We also learn that Julie Klausner can make a clunky bit of exposition about yahrzeit candles (a.k.a. candles that are burned for 24 hours on the anniversary of a loved one’s death) go down smoothly. And … TITLE CARD!
Cut to Julie’s apartment, in which I just noticed a very nice bookshelf loaded with books that probably all belong to Arthur. Julie’s in a bad mood: She resents the success of a 14-year-old Snapchat celebrity, and as she prepares to recap The Bachelorette, she realizes that the broadcast, which she DVRed, was interrupted by a news bulletin announcing that New York’s alert level has been raised “from rose gold to bronze.”
So instead of a recap, she submits a personal essay about her post-9/11 sexual escapades. (She had sex with 9 random guys and blew 11, because even fucking around needs thematic structure.) Of course, saying “9-11” aloud summons Lola the Trans Truther like she’s some kind of militant activist Candyman, and they have words. It’s nice that both Lola and Matthew get a bit of a victory lap in the season finale: Lola is angry angrily, and Matthew is noxious noxiously.
Because this show has a drum to beat, we get a solid dig in at the unfunny nature of prestige dramedies (viz: the Mark Twain Awards are honoring Mozart in the Jungle) before Arthur, poor Arthur, long-suffering Arthur, reveals that he’s a bit put out by Julie’s article, which he thinks paints him as a boring, stolid alternative to her youthful bacchanalia. Julie is affronted and storms out.
I humbly submit that Julie is missing the point a bit: As written and performed, Arthur isn’t slut-shaming Julie, he’s hack-shaming her. What bothers Arthur is that she wrote about him without giving him a heads-up — that she used their relationship as fodder without even discussing it with him. But Julie and the episode both believe Arthur is in the wrong, and the plot proceeds according to that, even forcing Arthur to listen as Billy gaysplains the dangers of slut-shaming, and have him learn a valuable lesson, and so on. It ain’t right.
Look, it’s possible that I’m overinvested in Arthur. Either way, can’t let this scene go without acknowledging this nice bit of business:
Julie: So if you want to be mad at someone, be mad at Mohammed Atta!
Arthur: I AM!
The fact that James Urbaniak hits the “I!” harder than the “AM!,” instead of the other way around, makes this bit 63.7 percent funnier than it would be otherwise. That’s just science.
As Julie and Billy line up to enter the Mark Twain Awards, we learn that they loathe the musical Fun Home (STEP OFF “RING OF KEYS,” SHOW) and that Julie’s essay is blowing up. A development executive (Julianne Moore, in a tight bun and aviator frames) overhears them talking about the essay and asks Julie to stop by her office at Josh Gad’s production company.
I expected the episode to go in a little harder on the basic-osity of adult coloring books, but we get only a couple of gentle jokes before Julianne Moore agrees to option Julie’s essay for a movie. In her delight at this news, Julie grows reflective and does my job for me, recapping episodes from earlier in the season.
Meanwhile, Billy is at Matthew’s interminable, poorly attended bachelorette party, where he’s growing increasingly impatient with Matthew’s elderly fiancé Elmer, played by the great character actor Bill Bogert. Bogert is so good here (and, famously, here) that he earns this episode five stars just by showing up. They recast the role of Elmer to get Bogert, and it’s a good thing they did: The character has a lot of heavy lifting to do in this episode, and Bogert handles it all without breaking a sweat. You wouldn’t assume that a dude who spent his career bopping from sitcom to sitcom would bring the necessary gravitas to a line like “What the fuck am I supposed to do, just slink off into the corner and self-suck my own hog?” But that’s why they call them character actors.
The next day, Julie’s company-chosen writing partner shows up and it’s Richard Goddamn Kind, people. Why do you cast a Richard Kind? Check the sour, hangdog expression he’s wearing as Julie opens the door, and watch how instantaneously and effortlessly it slides into that of a condescending asshole. (“Harvey. Known for comedy. Blues Brothers 2000. Police Academy 6.”) That’s why you cast a Richard Kind.
Arthur goes to see Billy to talk to him about Julie’s essay, and this is where he gets the lecture about slut-shaming that is 100 percent right and good and true, but still doesn’t completely seem like something Arthur deserves to hear. But I’m not mad at it, because this scene gives Urbaniak more dialogue than the last three episodes combined.
Back at the apartment, Richard Kind is Richard Kind–ing it up, and it’s glorious. (“Would you like to see my cable Ace award? This one. Is for Dream On. The first sitcom. To show yobbos.”) His obnoxiousness crests when he refers to Julie as “loose,” which sets Arthur off. There’s an awesome, tiny camera pull-in as Arthur challenges Harvey, and the two men get into a wonderfully inept slapfight that, in case you are wondering, did in fact require a fight choreographer.
Back at Josh Gad’s production company, Julie learns that her film will now be written by Harvey and his new writing partner, the 14-year-old Snapchat celebrity. (“She Snapchats food that she doesn’t eat that she puts on the head of her guinea pig!”) Julie storms out.
Later, at Matthew and Elmer’s wedding, Julie informs Billy that she went back later and completely sold out. On his way to the bathroom, Billy helps Elmer with his cuff links and unloads on him, recapping his trials and tribulations of this last season. Elmer delivers a stern rebuke, attempting to swat the self-pity out of Billy, when they are joined by Elmer’s best friend Marie, a zaftig redhead upon whom he relies. Billy looks at them and sees his future. And, for that matter, his present and his past.
Amy Sedaris returns as Rita the pastor, who officiates the ceremony between facial tics, joined on keyboards by her girlfriend, Deborah Fucking Harry. As Matthew starts down the aisle, wracked with full performative bride-cry, he is interrupted. Elmer has suddenly died. Sedaris’s delivery might be a shade too broad to maintain the show’s reality in this scene, but it leads to Matthew re-seizing the spotlight to sing “Ave Maria,” as Elmer’s body is wheeled down the aisle and pelted with rice.
Tearfully, Matthew recounts their meet-cute: “Elmer and I met at a urinal. The first thing I said was, ‘Hey, save some of that for me.’” Best Joke of the Episode. Possibly the entire season.
Billy and Julie bolt from the proceedings, decide to see a bad movie, take the subway, and stop waiting around for boyfriends and opportunities. The yahrzeit candle Billy lit for his father burns out, Bell and Sebastian sing “The Party Line,” and … roll credits. Andrea Martin and Gabourey Sidibe, you were missed!
That’s a wrap for season two of Difficult People, a great little show that you should tell more people about. Sit them down and force them to watch it. Start ‘em off with “Italian Pinata.” They will thank you.