“So this is what a gym looks like,” Julie says as Billy explains the basics of gay dating at the gym, and they proceed to say the absolute meanest things anyone has ever thought about Anne Hathaway. And so begins season 2 of the most New York-centric show in the television universe, about a TV recapper and a stand-up comedian. Difficult People ups its guest star game with its sophomore premiere, packing in appearances by John Mulaney, Tina Fey, and Sandra Bernhard. Mulaney, playing Cecil Jellford, um, pops into frame as the most recent in a string of guys to give Billy a blowie in the gym shower. Billy's indiscretions have caused him to break up with a lot of gyms, we learn, so he's committed to dating Cecil. For about 15 minutes, until they meet on the sidewalk and Billy discovers he's an "old timey," which appears to be a type of person who fetishizes the 1940s by dressing in period attire with full commitment to the pre-WWII lifestyle. It's also a double-sided dig at hipsters and their embrace of "authenticity" and those New York Times weekend trend pieces that we all read, even though we know they're trolling us with the oddball slices of life they prodigiously uncover. After a run-in with a fellow recapper turned TV writer named Heather, Julie is feeling jealous enough to scam her way into a Jewish networking group headed by showrunner Lilith Feigenbaum (Bernhard). The story line offers an explainer of traditional Shabbat, which requires Jews to rest from Friday evening to Saturday. This TV power group uses it as a time to unplug and get new ideas — a serious challenge for internet-addicted Julie. One of the most accurate jokes of the episode comes when Julie enlists her husband, Arthur, to be in charge of her internet presence while she's not allowed online. “Arthur, Google my name. Only read me glowing praise," Julie says. "Scrolling, scrolling," he replies...and scene.
We also get to meet the neo-Nazi neighbor from whom Julie steals WiFi, an encounter that's going to pay off right at the very end of the episode. But while we wait, Billy discovers that Cecil is a jelly-bean heir (this, surprisingly, does not stretch credulity for the random ways NYC trust-funders make family money). The ensuing Pretty Woman montage, complete with continuous mocking of Julia Roberts' infamous laugh, is a snarky gag that makes the episode worth watching. Enter guest star Tina Fey, as herself, kind of. She's directing an episode of The Blacklist ("...which is a dream come true. For my agent"). This is a c-plot story that seemingly goes nowhere, but if you're a fan of 30 Rock, it's gratifying as hell. Gird your loins, because all the loose ends at play here are about to come together in classic sitcom style. Julie brings her writing group to Cecil's old-timey party, because they don't believe a person like that could possibly exist, let alone be the basis for a TV show idea. Billy breaks up with Cecil because he is finally sent over the edge by the swarth of old timeys at the party. Billy lets him down gently, however, so that he doesn't have to break up with their shared gym and its three kinds of water: normal, lemon, and cucumber. After a peek at these awful Brooklyn old timeys, powerful showrunner Lilith buys in and tells Julie they're going to pitch a concept to Netflix (good dig, considering Difficult People is on Hulu and this show idea sounds awful!). Julie, who is wearing a wool outfit from Eileen Fisher to fit in with the group, has an allergic reaction and gives Cecil a double wink while asking him to show her around his house. This harks back to an earlier joke about antique collectors wanting the secret sign to show you their Nazi memorabilia and clears up why her neo-Nazi neighbor is wandering around the party. Billy winds up breaking up with this gym, and this being Seinfeld...oh sorry, Difficult People, Julie gets caught high-fiving Billy by Lilith in a shot that looks like a Nazi salute and is barred from the Jewish writing cartel. Cecil's parting shot to Julie of, "Kathy Griffin, I love your work," is obviously a shout-out to her real-life Twitter hecklers. It's back to a life of being recapper trash for Julie, and it's off to Curves in Staten Island for Billy.