Hulu has made only modest noise with original programming, a situation that could change, and should, with “Difficult People.” Produced by Amy Poehler, this tart, very funny comedy stars Julie Klausner (who created the show) and Billy Eichner as bitchy pals who don’t really have a good word for anybody, except each other. TV has reveled in such self-absorbed characters, but these two are so perfectly loathsome and oblivious to the feelings of others, it’s almost hard not to root for them. Consider it a half-hour that proves bad company, TV-wise, can be good fun.
At the least, viewers should feel like they know the pair almost instantly. Both Julie and Billy (yes, they kept their first names, but changed their last) are aspiring comedians, but they’re being forced to work other jobs while pursuing those dreams. He’s an awful waiter, while she recaps and brutalizes TV programs, while failing to grasp why that might hurt her chances of landing a more satisfying day job.
“I’m so funny when I write mean things about TV shows,” she says early on. “How come nobody’s hired me to write for one?”
Julie does have a support system, although she quickly insults the colleagues of her patient, slightly weird boyfriend Arthur (James Urbaniak), who works at PBS; and constantly spars with her mom (Andrea Martin), a therapist who is surely more screwed up than any of her patients. For his part, Billy is pining for an old boyfriend, although given how the central duo rely on each other, it’s hard to envision either of them having much empathy left over for a third party.
Acerbic in its use of language, the show makes clear just how myopic Julie and Billy can be when they throw a fit at a woman for bringing her young children to a stage production of “Annie” (yes, that’s right, “Annie”). And when the two hear the show is presenting an understudy in the title role, a stream of invective flies that only makes the situation worse, which of course will figure in a subsequent encounter.
In some respects, there’s a “Seinfeld”-type vibe to all this, down to the hardened shells that New Yorkers develop to navigate their way through such a densely packed city. These are the kind of folks who when they hear about an earthquake in Los Angeles, the only person they can think to worry about is actress Emmy Rossum. And Billy insists it’s perfectly fine that he’s hostile towards Jews and gays, since he’s both.
Yet “Difficult People” somehow avoids most of those cliches and even contains fleeting moments of melancholy, such as when Billy asks — seeing his dreams of stardom slipping away — “When’s it going to be our turn?” Much of that has to do with Klausner and Eichner’s effortless banter (they worked together on his show “Billy on the Street”), but there are also some amusing cameos, among them Bravo’s Andy Cohen and Martin Short, the latter one of the celebrities Billy actually admires.
Granted, unrelenting cattiness might not wear all that well, but three episodes were previewed, and the quality was consistent. So while the title accurately describes the way Billy and Julie cattily interact with the world, watching “Difficult People,” happily, was no chore at all.