Film and TV

Difficult People Recap: "That's Really Offensive"

We're recapping Difficult People, episode by episode. Bless your wooden head.

There is an episode of Seinfeld called "The Jimmy" that you might not remember. It's not a rerun standby. Partly because it's offensive, arguably. And partly because it offers one of the show's most biting social commentaries. It's about how people treat those they perceive as mentally disabled.

Following some dental work, Kramer is left with a numb lip that gives him a temporary speech impediment and for gym-related reasons — involving a man named Jimmy who favors the third person — he is wearing bulky, white shoes. One mistaken "do-gooder" and a few minutes later, Cosmo's paraded about and lauded for making everyone around him feel better about themselves. Kramer says typical Kramer things, but with a more bemused than usual look. It's played to big laughs. Which, depending on how you look at it, is cheap or speaking to the sort of self-congratulatory power dynamics people use to make themselves feel better. 

We begin there because this week's Difficult People, an impeccably organized, strong episode titled "Patches," takes the same general premise (how we label and correspondingly treat others) and runs. 

Billy and Julie are in an office! Which means they got jobs, right? Just the sorta progress we've been looking for. The Jerk Babies have been hired as guest bloggers by Buzzlist, a Buzzfeed-ish place where they deal in, yes, list writing. Lists can include but are not limited to seven ways to cook bacon in the '90s and things to look forward to on Showtime this year. No, really. The network's casting a companion show to The Affair. Julie would like to audition for this. Billy, conversely, says, "I’m gonna make a list of eight shows I’m never gonna watch and all eight of them will be The Affair."

They'll fit in great, Abby Elliott tells them. Amid the tech-journo-trash open work space, Julie spots a service bunny and finds out that all service animals are allowed at the office. Then she and Billy are led to some seesaw-style gymnastics equipment that is their desk. 

Cut to Arthur and Julie's apartment, where he wants to have a serious discussion and Julie is DIY-ing a pair of service dog vests. For money (and also love) reasons, Arthur wants to put a label on their relationship, a super-official, government-involved label called domestic partnership. Julie brushes him off, launching into a Leslie Knope-style scatterbrained speech about not rocking the boat, how she cannot be tamed, man — plus she's working on getting stable jobs (the acting gig at Showtime and a permanent spot on the Buzzlist staff). Arthur yells at her to cook her own dinner. But Julie's unfazed and returns to her crafting project, sing-telling her dogs, "Who’s gonna be two service dogs? You’re gonna be two service dogs.”

Billy is trying to get into a club, where the bouncers insist that because he does not fit into a particular man-animal category he can't hang. He's not a cub, wolf, otter, or jackal. Definitely not a bear. "Then what am I?" he asks. Sort of nothing, they say, and maybe try the piano bar down the street. Ow. "Old MacDonald had a fucking farm out here," Billy says, before deciding to get a pizza and go home accompanied by an "Everybody Hurts"-ish instrumental. 

But he cannot go home because his whole building has been quarantined due to an Ebola scare. What is this, 2014? Apparently. 

At the Buzzlist office, which we keep wanting to call Buzzkill, Billy and Julie catch up. He stayed at his brother's place after not fitting into any type on the "entire Noah's Ark of gay hipsters." 

Because they are at work, they launch into a pitch session and brainstorm what the nine most disgusting things in New York are. They decide on hot dog water and Mario Batali's scooter seat. Perfectly repulsive. Julie gets an e-mail that she's invited to audition for the The Affair spinoff, but something puzzles. The note says "remember this is premium cable, adjust your performance accordingly." Unsure what that means, they settle on it being a subtle hint to pretend to not be American, since such shows are full of Australians and Brits trying really hard to sound otherwise. "So maybe you try to sound Australian trying to sound American," Billy suggests.

And thus, the new "The Jimmy" is set in motion. But not before we find out that Julie's "service dogs" ate the real service bunny. Kinda charming though, right?? They've been banned from the service animal area, so she decides to bring the dogs with her to the audition and avoid further pet-on-pet violence. 

Now, the Tryst audition. Julie walks in with her dogs — still in their fake service vests, mind you — and commences with The Accent. The casting directors conclude that Julie must be mentally disabled, though we'd argue the voice is more akin to that of a Romy or Michele. “You should feel very proud of yourself,” Rachel Dratch says. 

Unable to put up with another night at his brother's, Billy is now crashing on Julie's couch. Or trying to. Her dogs keep bringing him offerings. And Arthur, still upset from Julie's resistance to label their relationship, begins sleep cooking. 

The next morning, Marilyn visits the restaurant and tells sleep-deprived Billy that his puffy eyes and pale skin are making him look like Julie. She invites Billy to stay at her place in Julie's old room. Julie does not approve of this move, but announces that she got the part! Well, she got a part on The Tryst. The casting director told her she was "so special" that they wrote a role just for her. Julie is flattered but she's also worried about continuing to sound like Romy and/or Michele. 

At Marilyn's, Billy and his fake mom are getting along beautifully. She suggests he's in his 20s and they could be siblings. He wears a cat-appliqued sweatsuit that belonged to kid Julie. Finally, Billy's feeling like he fits in somewhere, and Marilyn loves having him. 

On set, Julie is valiantly keeping up with her accent and jokingly requests cake or an appetizer from Outback Steakhouse. Adorable. She's welcomed warmly by the crew and delivers the insult, "Wow, for people who work at Showtime you sure are a bunch of happy campers.” To which everyone is amused and takes heart, for Julie has no filter, they muse, but look out for the mood swings. These people are the worst.

Back at Marilyn’s, Billy is Tindering from Julie’s room (which is full of posters we love and want: Cats, Kids in the Hall, and the B-52s) and it turns into yet another heartwarming moment. He bemoans not fitting in to a group. But Marilyn swoops in with the right (if self-serving) words: "You don’t have to fit in with anyone, because you have me." Now, she says, let's watch VHS tapes of old Jenny Jones shows and make fun of her hair and dumb questions. 

"I feel like a Gilmore girl," Billy says. Like we said, HEARTWARMING. 

Bah-lewns, pretty bah-lewns for sale, Julie is saying while wearing a bucket hat and overalls. These are her lines on The Tryst, which is being filmed now and is the worst. Her name is Patches and an overly hair-gelled man speaks to her like she is about 7 years old before buying one of her bah-lewns. "Bah-lewns are good for freyunds," trying to not be Australian Julie-as-Patches says. Everyone applauds her efforts, she gets a jacket as a gift, and they award her a chintzy plastic medal. 

Later, a Showtime exec comes to visit Julie's trailer, saying she had to meet her and musing over her shiny medal (which is not chocolate, Julie says, she checked). Exec wants to take her to dinner — dinner with a reporter — to congratulate Julie (but really Showtime) on a job mostly well done. Julie is a little weirded out, as she only had four lines, but she's so unaccustomed to this level of praise and acceptance that she doesn't think about it too hard. 

At the restaurant, Billy is in a good mood for the first time ever in the world because he's living in the Drake of zip codes. He loves the Upper West Side and he does not care who knows it. Marilyn swings by with bags of new clothes for her brother-son, clothes that she says will better conceal his problem areas. So begins the falling out of love with Liz Lemon's neighborhood. 

And we're back at Buzzlist, where Abby Elliott introduces a new list idea: 25 reasons we are permanently hiring Billy and Julie. Now they won't have to domestically partner or work in a restaurant anymore! But Abby can't stay and discuss — she has a press TV dinner to get ready for. Ahem. Quickly, Billy is wary of the good news. He feels fat and unworthy, thanks to days spent with Marilyn and her well-meaning but deflating ways. It's conditional love, whereas Julie realizes that Arthur offers unconditional love and cooking. Pretty rare, and something she knows she needs to hold on to. Billy decides he has to leave Marilyn's.

That night, Julie and Arthur are on their way to the dinner that will undo all this episode's doings. Julie's excitement is met with Arthur's, "Good for you, spray cheese." She almost apologizes to Arthur and tells him that she's willing to compromise and become his domestic partner. Directly following her emotional progress, she and her lovely dress are doused in hot dog water, the second most disgusting thing in New York. 

Cut to dinner, and Julie has changed into the cat sweatsuit, which Billy returned to her earlier and is not helping others' perceptions of her. She is continuing her accent, and this is the first Billy has heard it in practice. Under his breath, he voices concern that it's, well, not exactly what Julie was going for. Despite their disgust with Arthur, the Showtime people toast their "little Julie." In walks the exec with a Buzzlist camera crew, saying, "This is our mentally disabled Julie."

Finally, the charade ends. Obviously, Julie didn't realize they thought she was mentally disabled, returns to her real voice, and sees that Abby Elliot is among the Buzzlist crew. "It's that voice you were doing," Billy says. Julie realizes that they've only been nice to her because of how they perceived her terrible accent. The exec calls her a vile human being for taking a job from a special-needs actress — even though they wrote the role specifically for Julie. And specifically to congratulate themselves for doing so.

How did Julie not realize that Patches was mentally disabled? Well, she hadn't really heard the spiel out loud before, but now the balloon-selling paired with the name Patches sounds as problematic as it is. "That's really offensive," she rightfully says, then unfortunately adds that it's not her fault Australian accents make people sound like they have special needs. She's booted from the steakhouse by an Australian who apparently owns the place. Then, balloons drop and a banner saying "We <3 You Patches" unfurls. 

At Marilyn's, Billy is packing up to go back to his brother's place and Julie's reading a Buzzlist piece about abominations that she is still worse than. They're fired, duh. But they take comfort in knowing, "We're destined to be stars, real stars, not list makers," Billy says. 

Then, Julie reads him another Buzzlist piece in the Patches voice. 

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Becky Bartkowski is an award-winning journalist and the arts and music editor at New Times, where she writes about art, fashion, and pop culture.
Contact: Becky Bartkowski