Actors Billy Eichner (“Billy on The Street”) and Julie Klausner (“Best Week Ever,” “Mulaney”) reprise their roles from their hit shows “Parks & Rec” in “Difficult People,” a new comedy from Amy Poehler’s Paper Kite productions for Hulu. Two cynical, pop culture-obsessed best friends try to break into the acting and comedy industries.
Billy and Julie’s adventures have a much more focused scopethan Abbi and Ilana’s absurd rompshows. While the show shares some similarities with Poehler’s last hit “Broad City” (a strong central friendship, New York-specific gags, etc), It seems like “Difficult People” was written to appeal to a particular subset of smart-ass New Yorkers who work in media or entertainment and frequently refresh their Twitter mentions. With its rapid-fire celebrity references and sharp meta-commentary on the entertainment industry (which is probably why yours truly enjoyed the show so much).
However, fans of clever comedy will enjoy the show because it draws on a variety of sources to create something new and original — a feat that makes sense given Klausner’s long and impressive history of writing for comedy, television and other entertainment media. / (Klausner, just like her character on the show, used to write “Real Housewives” recaps for Vulture). Here are some notable pop culture analogs and inspirations for “Difficult People”:
1. The cringe comedy of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”
According to Julie Klausner of Entertainment Weekly, the show “Curb Your Enthusiasm” would be “Difficult People’s” closest comedic analogue if the two leads had never created “Seinfeld.” From what we’ve seen in the first three episodes, Julie and Billy seem to have a lot in common with Larry David in terms of misanthropy, neurosis, and the tendency to instigate unnecessary conflicts. Many of the show’s conflicts are caused by Billy and Julie’s proclivity for defying social norms, just like on “Curb.” It’s shown in the pilot that the two get into trouble for using lewd language during a matinee performance of “Annie” on Broadway, while another episode shows Julie getting into trouble for tweeting about R. Kelly peeing on Blue Ivy.
2. The solid friendship of “Broad City”
It’s Billy and Julie’s love-hate relationship that drives “Difficult People,” despite Billy’s sarcastic exterior. It has a similar feel to Poehler’s previous work in that it portrays Julie and Billy as best friendsoulmates — the only people who truly understand each other — fighting a series of outsiders who don’t get them. )
3. The rapid-fire pop culture references of “Community”
In contrast to many other comedic series, “Difficult People” makes effective use of pop culture references as plot devices. Every celebrity is Billy and Julie’s obsession, and no one escapes their scornful remarks: To cringe-worthy remarks on FDR, even (“I love that he was born during a time when handicapped people had to wear blanket on their laps”), from Chelsea Handler (“what would I rather see less, Chelsea Handler’s nipples or her Netflix talk show?”) to Chrissy Teigen (“She doesn’t have quite the shrewd mind of a Naya Rivera”)
4. The A-Listcomediccameos of“30 Rock” and “Parks & Recreation”
Despite the abundance of shows featuring celebrity cameos, perhaps due to Julie Klausner’s Upright Citizen’s Brigade background and Amy Poehler’s production credit, there are an overwhelming number of familiar faces who have “Saturday Night Live” or UCB written somewhere on their resumes, including — but not limited to —Marty Short, Rachel Dratch, Fred Armisen,Seth Meyers, Ana Gasteyer and a stellar as ever Kate McKinnon.. This is a great place for the casts of “Parks,” “30 Rock,” and other shows from the Lorne Michaels universe.
5. The prickly antiheroine of “The Comeback”
While there are numerous comedicantiheroes on television (“Curb,” “The Office,” “Louie,” etc.”), a female lead is rarely given free rein to be brash, mean, and utterly self-absorbed. That’s what distinguishes Julie as such a welcome addition to the cast of players. Klausner, like Lisa Kudrow’s Valerie Cherish in “The Comeback,” cares more about being herself than about being liked. When ‘The Comeback,’ first appeared in 2001, I was completely blown away,” Klausner recently told The Observer. For me, it was the first time I’d seen a woman get to do what Larry David does so well: be narcissistic and self-absorbed while still being completely hilarious.
6. The New York-centric nothingness of “Seinfeld”
Small apartments, quirky New Yorkers abound in “Difficult People,” but the show’s use of the city has a Seinfeldian feel to it because so many of the subplots are about, well, nothing. Billy and Julie’s plan to bottle the water from library drinking fountains, and Billy’s breakup with his boyfriend because he’s too much of an audience participant seemed plucked from the minds of Larry and Jerry in the show’s opening episodes. In addition, there is a lot of the “no hugging, no learning” philosophy present.
7. The quintessential Billy-ness of“Billy on the Street”
When he’s on “Parks & Recreation” or his hilarious “Billy on the Street” game show, Eichner always plays a charmingly sardonic version of himself (having seen him speak in person, I can confirm this is not a put-on). Billy’s many fans — and if you aren’t one yet, welcome to the party, latecomers! — will enjoy “Difficult People,” which features the comic at his dry, acidic best, oscillating between scathing putdowns and irreverent bon mots. There is a nuance and range of emotion that is shown on the show that is not necessarily apparent in his street yelling, as he struggles with breakups and navigates his many deep-rooted hangups and hostilities. There isn’t much more to say about it other than, if you haven’t already guessed, Billy Eichner is one of the most talented comic actors working today.
8. The dark meta-comedy of “Louie”
A long line of comedic shows have featured comedians portraying less successful versions of themselves, but “Difficult People” takes its most direct inspiration from “Louie,” a show that features comedians portraying less successful versions of themselves.
Both shows are produced by 3Arts’ Dave Becky, and Klausner has stated that she frequently had them in mind while writing the show. “Difficult People” shares many similarities with Louis C.K.’s belovedFX comedy, despite its more conventional structure. These include the aforementioned New York specificity, the insider exploration of the comedy world, antiheroic leads, and a tone that can quickly turn dark.