We're recapping Difficult People, episode by episode. Dear mom who art in heaven, thank you for this free student haircut I'm about to receive.
"I'm just an in-between," Judy Garland once sang, lamenting being stranded between childhood and adulthood, something that permanently dogged her and her career. In Difficult People's "Italian Piñata," Julie and Billy find themselves similarly stuck.
It's Coming Out Day, and as our favorite best friends pass the Stonewall Inn — yes, Stonewall riots Stonewall — they quickly recap the bar's famed riots that followed the funeral of Judy Garland, mother to Liza (and Lorna), queen of really big sad songs, and a forever in-between who never really fit in anywhere. Which, fitting.
Billy does not wish to participate in the song and dance that is Coming Out Day because all the attention at bars will go to the recently out. He is not recently out. Julie feels similarly alienated because she was rejected from an all-women comedy festival called Ladies Who Love to Laugh. "I'm not a girl's girl?" she queries, adding without a beat missed, "Fuck those cunts."
We get to the restaurant, which we don't spend much time at this episode, where a woman in a Fun Home sweatshirt is coming out to her surprised, tearful family. Billy is hoping to get a shift covered to attend a Kevin "Fat Man on Batman" Smith Bugle Boy denim relaunch party that sounds like a dream nightmare, a thing so heinous and hilarious that you dream of having nightmares about it. Obviously, Billy and Julie have to attend this party, only made more enticingly bad by where it's held: Hoboken, New Jersey.
Julie and Marilyn are getting cheapie haircuts at a beauty school (one of many Grease allusions) as Julie tells her mom that she wishes she could have close lady friends. She likes animules, eats cupcakes, and looks like Amy Schumer in the right lighting. What gives? Marilyn tells her to check her desperation, because that's how you get lured into a cult. She'd know: A current patient of hers has a daughter in a cult. Thus, the episode sets up Julietown and Marilynville's storylines to intersect better than they have so far this season.
Invariably, the haircuts turn out terribly. Marilyn has been KD Langed in a way that will require hats and Julie has a poodley perm. She looks like both a pre-makeover Melanie Griffith in Working Girl and Little Orphan Weird Al Yankovic (according to her) and brings her mane of many curls home to Arthur.
He's having his own problems that also intersect with Julie's storyline. He's recently been named birthday party thrower in chief at PBS, where he's hoping to earn some cool points with the Mr. Selfridge team. He wants to sit at their table. He wants to belong, too. Julie loops him into her Jersey party plans, and Arthur is amused at what lengths she will go to enjoy something that she does not, in fact, enjoy. "What can I say, I really hate Kevin Smith," she muses.
And then we're in Jersey! But we're three hours early for the party. So Billy and Julie head to an Italian restaurant to kill time and look at pictures of Frank Sinatra/Ronan Farrow. There, they meet a gang of Italian women with on-purpose Working Girl hair walls. Julie makes a joke about never saying no to free meat in her mouth. Then, "Get this meat out of my mouth, and other things John Travolta has never said."
Let's pause here to Google-Images remind ourselves how hot Danny Zuko was.
You good? Good. We're back.
The girls like her! Unlike other girls. They're names are Joni, Rizzo (who is not trying to be Stockard Channing but it's probably better that way), and Therese, and they invite Billy and Julie to a gay bar, where it is still Coming Out Day and Joni's brother is hanging out and also Mark Consuelos.
Billy still feels invisible at the bar, and Julie yells at the Aaron Tveit lookalike bartender, who she calls Grease Live, to pay attention to her friend. To get a deal on their drinks, Billy lies and says he just came out today. Consuelos overhears this and welcomes him "to the tribe" while wearing apparently out-of-trend denim. And then Billy realizes: Nobody knows him here and he can soak up some of the newly out attention. He announces to the bar that Julie is his wife and he is going to leave her. She chimes in: "But I'm okay with it!"
Mistaken for an Italian girl and a recently straight dude, they've found the attention they've been looking for and they've fallen in love with New Jersey (because people sort of have fallen in love with them in New Jersey).
Arthur has hosted the first of his PBS b-days as the resident Joy-Boy, but it didn't go that well and he spent all the birthday budget on it. Julie, in her new way of making plates and helping, puts together that Arthur can tenuously blend together a birthday party of a neighbor-child with the next PBS birthday-haver, Gabby. Is this a good idea? No. But does the neighbor-child agree to go along with it? Yep. Neighbor-dad has a helium tank (rented from Hoboken) and off-handedly mentions that a clown will be there.
Meantime, Billy is chilling with Consuelos, who's serving as Jersified Gay 101 instructor who specializes in "LGBLT" history. Delicious. Billy says that until recently he has been busy doing straight-guy things like mowing the lawn and having a man cave and liking "Hotel California." No matter, Consuelos says, noting that Billy he can wear rainbows, Demi Lovato is the new Madonna, and doesn't need in-depth Garland knowledge that spans to her offspring until he's reached a more advanced level.
Julie is hanging out with her Jersey Ladies trio, who wear too much makeup and sell purses that fell off a truck ~wink~. A few asides about not exactly liking but being amused by Jewish people followed by suggestion to visit Cheesecake Factory and Julie's a full-on convert, saying, "I have found my corner of the sky."
In Marilynville, the mayor is sporting a cream-colored beret and accidentally calling her patient with the cult daughter idiotic. (She is actually looking at herself in a mirror and insists she must change into a new hat.)
Back at Julie and Arthur's apartment, Marilyn sees Julie's new look, bronzed and curled and dressed like a cast member of Mob Wives. "Are you tan or just dirty? Marilyn asks. Julie counters, citing the troubling precedent set by Rachel Dolezal, and then coming out to her mom: "I identify as Italian."
Cut to Arthur hosting his neighbor-kid's birthday party at his work conference room. At first party recipient/boss Gabby is super into it, but then she spots — dun, dun, dunnnnn — the clown. She runs off screaming and traumatized. "I didn’t know there would be a clown, and I certainly didn’t know he would give chase," he apologizes. She removes him from birthday duty, making him a Joy-Boy no more.
Julie, hair growing, skin tanning, and metaphors foodening, has gone full Italian. “Lying about who we are made us accept who we really are ... after we changed it," Billy says. Foolproof.
Back in Marilynville, cult girl's mom is hysterical. But this time, Marilyn is asking cult girl's mom for advice, since Julie is in the midst of joining a cult of her own. Cult girl's mom says that she should have thrown a bag over her head and tossed her daughter in the back of a van at the first moment it seemed like her daughter was culting, er, cultomatic? No ... Greased cultening.
Marilyn leaves immediately and heads to Arthur's office (where the Selfridges have just announced how they think he's cool post-clown chase). “We have to rescue her before we lose her to this Italian phase forever," she says." Arthur says it'll pass, like that time Julie tried to like hip-hop. And yet the WASP alcoholic and Jewish woman with the metabolism of a 25-year-old realize they have nothing in common except for one thing: Julie. And, as Marilyn puts it, “If we don’t act now, we could lose Julie to … Catholicism."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
The two have to get to Hoboken to save Julie/Juliana, who is hanging out at the Italian restaurant with the Italian Girls and listening to songs they "friggen love" including "New York, New York." Billy and Consuelos are there, too. Therese says this might be her favorite Frank Sinatra song ever. Billy and Julie, in tandem, say that they've always though of it more as a Liza Minnelli song, thereby outing their true selves as a longtime gay man and a non-Italian Jewish woman.
Just then, Marilyn walks in with a can of helium and a black pillow case that she puts over Julie's head. This, we learn from Rizzo, is the "Italian Piñata" in question.
"Give our regards to Lorraine Bracco and her affordable wines,” Billy signs off.
Hookup impossible and friendships destroyed, they say goodbye to Jersey, a hot boyfriend, being a girl's girl, cannoli, and confectioner's sugar. And a mess of purses promptly fall to the street from the back of a truck.