Children, gather ’round! Let me tell you of a place where television storytelling becomes untethered from reality. It’s a place where monsters walk among us, human emotions take physical forms, and two losers stand in the middle of all the madness – just so we can laugh at their dumb, stupid faces.
Your friends and family may not have told you about these two – because, well, they’re losers and losers don’t have any friends (viewers). But, they are very real – and their reality is at the center of two of the most imaginative shows around. Shows that use their endless inventiveness to pull off highly difficult concepts with near-perfect precision.
Yes, these two dorks might have ordinary names and even more ordinary faces – but their shows are anything but. So, I’m going to need you to mentally prepare yourself for how uncool this article is going to make you feel. You’re going to have to trust me.
One-Punch Man is a show about Saitama – the guy who is “a hero just for fun”. “Fun” meaning, he really has no real discernible goals or code or clue as to what he should be doing at any moment. In fact, he’s basically a complete doofus. But, there’s a big twist in One-Punch Man – Saitama also happens to be the most powerful being in the universe. He’s just your average guy who is so strong he can destroy giant monsters with a single punch (hence the title).
But, One-Punch Man isn’t a show about unrepentant ass-kicking. Far from it. It’s actually a show about how unfulfilling it would be to be all-powerful. And, Saitama suffers from a general ennui that comes from having no real challenges in life. It’s the reason he often finds himself more concerned with life’s banalities (like the fact that the supermarket is about to close), than he is with defeating the giant monster that is declaring its intentions to destroy his very existence.
For example, here he is trying to get dirt out of his pants while paying no mind to the genetically-altered lion monster that has sworn to rip him limb-from-limb.
And, that’s because Saitama knows he’s got this in his back pocket:
This is pretty much his effort level in every battle. In fact, his greatest challenge in the entire series probably comes from a mosquito:
This kind of comedic weirdness alone would be enough for me, but One-Punch Man has a level of parody that propels it from good to truly fantastic. And, in order to explain that parody properly, I must first take you into the world of a different show. Let me take you on a journey that will explain how I stayed a virgin until I was 18-years old.
Have you ever watched Dragonball Z? Did you like it? Did you like it so much that you walked into a field that one time and started screaming to see if you could “power up” and lightning would shoot out of you?
(That day, I did not “power up”. In fact, I took a huge step down.)
If Dragonball Z escaped your purview while you were growing up, may I just commend you on having sex. Because, that was not in the cards for me – not when you’re watching a show that produces YouTube videos like these:
(The only thing that was in the cards for me were Yu-Gi-Oh! cards.)
Dragonball Z is the kind of thing you only admit to liking if you feel really secure about your relationship with that person. Because, well, you just saw why. And, while being a fan of DBZ past the age of 12 is indefensible, at least the show’s fanbase has a sense of humor about it. Most of us will openly admit that our love for this series deserves ridicule.
That’s what makes One-Punch Man so brilliant – it lovingly parodies shows like Dragonball Z (and all Shonen manga series) – by simply turning the genre’s core principle on its ear and adhering to everything else. You see, Shonen manga series are almost always about fantasies of power, becoming powerful, and/or realizing one’s ultimate potential. And, the shows almost always focus entirely on the journey to achieve that power. One-Punch Man upends all of this, because from the moment we meet Saitama he’s already unbeatable. He will never lose, and so every other convention of the genre becomes a joke:
- CONVENTION #1: Intense training that results in new heights of power? Check.
In other shows, huge amounts of a character’s time (in their reality) is devoted to training and achieving greatness. In One-Punch Man, Saitama becomes the most powerful being in the universe, and, it really isn’t that hard. Here he is revealing his “big secret” – the training regiment that allowed him to achieve a power equivalent to 50% of the Big Bang:
(If that sounds ridiculous, well, that’s kind of the point. Because, really – how is that any less arbitrary than training in a hyperbolic time chamber to become a “Super Saiyan“? The answer is, it’s not.)
- CONVENTION #2: Long monologues while a character “powers up” so that they can destroy their opponent? Check.
In One-Punch Man, these explosive speeches are never that dramatic, because Saitama is never worried about losing. Here he is listening to an alien being as it “powers up” to a level that can “destroy galaxies”:
(Even as the alien explains that it traveled the cosmos for the sole purpose of obliterating him, he is not impressed.)
- CONVENTION #3: Cool fighting moves and styles that took a lifetime to master? Check.
The difference here is they always belong to Saitama’s opponents. While they spend ages mastering awe-inspiring techniques of incredible power, Saitama fights like a total ass-clown, because he’s never had to learn anything or improve:
Like, sometimes he punches people in the dick:
Plus, many more. The point is, the show takes Shonen’s guilty pleasures and makes them more palatable by having a sense of humor about how silly they are.
One-Punch Man is great at poking fun of an admittedly ridiculous genre, but only because it knows it so well. It loves Shonen manga with the same grain of salt that so many of the fans do. And, it’s a love made apparent by the amount of care the show puts into its beautifully-badass action sequences – even when the oddball antics of its main character keeps things comical at heart:
I have a soft-spot in my heart for this one.
ONE-PUNCH MAN – SEASON 1 – IS NOW STREAMING ON NETFLIX ON HULU.
* * *
MAN SEEKING WOMAN
Man Seeking Woman is a show about a guy that you’ve most certainly met before. So much so, that it might’ve been the reason you decided not to watch. Like, what – you didn’t want to watch another show about some sad-sack loser who is desperate for the approval of women far more attractive and interesting than he is? Are you tired of being able to hear the writer’s thirstiness as he creates a scenario in which he–I mean his character–wins the heart of incredibly gorgeous and smart woman even though he looks like this:
(Love – Season 2 – Now shitting on Netflix.)
Sorry. I’m back. The good news is – Man Seeking Woman is not that show. And, if you decide to start watching it, you’ll soon realize why they used such a familiar character in such a familiar story – so they’d have the freedom to tell that story with immensely creative leaps. Leaps that involve propelling their characters into strange, genre-bending worlds.
So, what the hell does that mean, you ask? It’s kind of hard to explain without examples. But, suffice it to say, the most familiar scenarios of dating, trying to find love, and life in general get thrust into something far more bizarre. And, maybe in good writer’s form, I’ll just show you instead of telling you. (The screenwriter crying over his imaginary girlfriend would’ve wanted it that way.)
By finding the connective tissue between a very regular scenario and a very surreal one, the show can make some very, very weird things make perfect sense. For example:
- REGULAR SCENARIO: Josh wants to get rid of his ex-girlfriend’s things in order to move on after their break-up. Something we can all relate to, right? Well…
- SHOW SCENARIO: Josh does so by having an actual exorcism in an attempt to cleanse the house of her presence. With a priest and all. And, with disastrous results when one of her items becomes possessed:
(That adorable heart tells Josh to suck its dick. …Yeah.)
- REGULAR SCENARIO: Josh meets a girl on the train and gets her number. Only, since he hasn’t dated in a while, he doesn’t know what he should text her. We’ve all been there, right? Kind of.
- SHOW SCENARIO: The uncertainty around Josh’s text is so great, it ends up getting sent to the highest levels of our government. Josh doesn’t just get help from his friends, he gets help from the entire pentagon:
(Some of America’s top brass helped him secure a date with that woman.)
As the series goes along, the show even shifts viewpoints at times to Josh’s sister, Liz.
- REGULAR SCENARIO: Liz is having trouble trying to find the right guy. Her standards are high and she doesn’t want to settle. In other words, she wants to find the perfect man.
- SHOW SCENARIO: A Frankenstein-style spoof where Liz tries to make that guy in a laboratory – combining all the traits she wants in her perfect man. Spoiler Alert: she accidentally ends up creating a gay guy.
(How else could you be that smart, that handsome, and play an instrument?)
The show goes on like this – with each surreal sequence explaining a very real emotion that progresses the arc of the show’s characters. So, what starts as a group of seemingly 2D archetypes, becomes a group of 3D people with a lot of subtlety, depth, and nuance. You come to understand and love these humans a lot because you see the world through their ridiculously strange points-of-view. And, this window into their imaginations gives you a totally unique bond to each of them – a bond you won’t find anywhere else on TV. I mean, just look at what happens when Josh’s mom wants to know about a new girl he’s dating:
(Any mom willing to torture her own son is a mom you have to love.)
Man Seeking Woman’s brilliance comes in its ability – time and time again – to create these sketch-style set-ups that perfectly capture how extreme our feelings can seem as we’re experiencing them. And, not only that, but remind us how cathartic it can be to laugh at those heightened sensations. The show is masterful at connecting the mundane to the surreal, and then back again. Creating scenarios that are somehow incredibly absurd, but relatable – scenarios that are over-the-top hilarious, but sprinkled with “it’s funny because it’s true!” observational humor that keeps it all grounded.
So, yes, it might take you a few episodes to get a feel for the show’s style – but once you do – the series will really start to sing. By the end of Season 1, you’ll be hooked. And, by the time you get to the end of Season 3, you’ll be devastated it’s all over. Sad you’re losing friends who never ceased to amaze you with their imaginations, but satisfied that you got to see the world from their weird eyes. If only for a brief glimpse.
MAN SEEKING WOMAN – SEASONS 1-2 – ARE STREAMING ON HULU.
MAN SEEKING WOMAN – SEASON 3 – IS STREAMING ON FXNOW.