‘You’re the Worst’ is the best rom-sitcom on TV
Matthew Munhall | Monday, November 2, 2015
When “You’re the Worst” premiered last fall on FX, it was one of a handful of rom-sitcoms trying to revive romance on the small screen. Attempting to differentiate itself from its sincere network counterparts, “You’re the Worst” marketed itself as an acerbic show about terrible, self-absorbed people. Its theme song sets up the expectation of a cynical worldview when it comes to love: “I’m gonna leave you anyway” goes its only lyric.
The show’s premise seemed to confirm that this wasn’t a typical romantic comedy. In the pilot, Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen (Aya Cash) meet over cigarettes at his ex-girlfriend’s wedding and bond over their mutual contempt for matrimony. Jimmy, a British writer with one middling novel under his belt, and Gretchen, a music publicist representing an Odd Future-like rap group, initially pledge to keep things casual between them. Both share a caustic narcissism and a bullheaded commitment to alienating those around them, seemingly precluding the blossoming of any real romance beyond the obvious sexual chemistry.
Over the course of the first season, however, “You’re the Worst” revealed itself to be a deeply sincere series at its core — under their cynical facades, Jimmy and Gretchen find themselves earnestly falling for each other. The end of the first season has the rough outline of a Nora Ephron rom-com, with Jimmy asking Gretchen to move in with him (albeit after she accidentally burns down her apartment complex). “There is horrible sadness and pain coming, and we’re inviting it,” Gretchen predicts, but she agrees anyway — they’re going to try to make it work, buoyed only by the belief that the high will hopefully be worth the pain.
The show’s excellent second season has plunged right into what is often dangerous territory for a sitcom: what happens after the will-they-won’t-they couple decides they will. People still complain that “The Office” went downhill after Jim and Pam got together, and the fourth season of “New Girl” hit reset on the Nick and Jess coupling after it nearly derailed the show completely. The prevailing logic is that there are more laughs to be mined from sexual tension than from settling down.
This season’s premiere finds Jimmy and Gretchen grappling with the same exact problem, worried about falling into a mundane routine now that they live together. They predictably course-correct too far in the other direction, exhausting themselves with whiskey-and-cocaine-fueled benders in their attempt to stave off boring coupledom. By the end of the week, they realize this lifestyle isn’t sustainable, but Gretchen still worries they’ll become boring “sweater people.” “Gretch, we couldn’t be one of the sweater people even if we wore, like, ten cardigans each,” Jimmy reassures her.
The second season of “You’re the Worst,” likewise, refuses to settle, exploring what comes after the happy ending in a rom-com — the difficult work of making a relationship work — while remaining riotously funny. The show’s dramatic and comedic strains collided most explosively in “There Is Not Currently a Problem,” which is perhaps the best episode of the show’s run. Jimmy, Gretchen and their friends are trapped in his house due to traffic from the LA Marathon, with Grechen in particularly becoming increasingly frustrated from being cooped up all day. The tension eventually leads to an outburst from Gretchen, who lobs insults at all her friends, which would be funny if they weren’t so extremely cruel.
This meltdown leads to Gretchen revealing to Jimmy that she suffers from clinical depression, in an Emmy-worthy performance from Cash. “So the only thing I need from you is to not make a big deal of it,” she tells him, “and be okay with how I am and the fact that you can’t fix me.” By the next episode, however, Jimmy’s already ignoring Gretchen’s plea to not to try to fix her, planning a “Sunday Funday” full of fun activities to get her out of her funk. When he gets upset that she’s not grateful for his efforts, she decides to pretend that he has fixed her after all.
It’s unclear how long Gretchen can continue lying about her depression — it reveals a growing rift between her and Jimmy. But in its second season, the show has done a masterful job exploring the difficult task of keeping a relationship together, especially when one person suffers from depression. Maybe they’ll leave each other anyway in the end, but “You’re the Worst” will undoubtedly continue to be both uproariously funny and unflinchingly human.